30 Oct 2018

Porirua community demands help after six suspected suicides: 'It's just too many'

4:44 pm on 30 October 2018

Porirua people are demanding urgent help after six suspected suicides and a death in a car accident since June.

Porirua College prinicipal Ragne  Maxwell

Porirua College principal Ragne Maxwell says "It's just too many". Photo: RNZ / Phil Pennington

Five of the sudden deaths were of people under 30 and many of them had left high school only recently. The deaths have been referred to the coroner.

Locals say young people are traumatised.

The deaths centred around the east Porirua neighbourhood of Cannons Creek.

An emergency community meeting was held at Porirua College hall last night and about 200 people attended.

One parent, Rose, who had brought a dozen young people to the meeting, said services were disjointed and passed distressed teenagers from one counsellor to the next.

"They've lost so many family and best friends in these last short months. But when we get told, 'Oh, ring ... Youthline, ring this, ring that', the kids get so confused and so angry, then they want to go do something like that, like go hurt themselves."

Porirua College principal Ragne Maxwell said the impact had been profound.

"This has caused grief. I was talking to two young people and I said to them 'How are you?' And they said 'It's too many, it's just too many, what do we do?'"

Community leader Salevao Manase, who chaired the meeting, said locals were resilient but Porirua should not have to wait for more government help.

"Personally, I haven't seen anything. I know there are some discussions. In terms of the reality, it needs to happen."

Salevao Manase

Community leader Salevao Manase chaired the meeting. Photo: RNZ / Phil Pennington

Mr Manase, a mental health expert, said Porirua could not afford to wait for a result from the government's mental health inquiry.

Ms Maxwell said local schools went to the district health board late last term to ask for help.

They responded quickly by funding two full time mental health workers to cover the four local high schools.

One began at the start of the term, and the DHB is still seeking a second.

But Ms Maxwell said this left a huge gap for distressed children that intermediates and primary schools were seeing, and the vulnerable school leaver group.

She said it was vital the Ministry of Health set up a youth hub to cover school leavers.

Nearby Wellington city, Kāpiti and the Hutt all had such a hub, she said.

Ms Maxwell said the latest request seemed to have got the Ministry of Health's attention and she hoped it would happen early next year.

The lack of a national suicide strategy was hindering the response in Porirua, community workers said.

The last 10-year-long strategy and a three-year-long action plan both ended in 2016.

The Health Ministry began consulting on a new strategy last year but has put that on hold.

"The Suicide Prevention Strategy is on hold until the Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction reports back," the ministry's Dr John Crawshaw said in a statement.

"As the Inquiry may have findings relevant to the development of a new strategy, it was put on hold until the Ministry could see the recommendations."

Youth worker Joan Buchanan said Porirua City Council had just put half a million dollars into youth services, but had misdirected it.

"They were told that they were investing without a feasibility study, without a needs assessment, yet they went ahead into some youth programmes, like after-school programmes.

"We need to get a lot more sophisticated because these issues are a lot bigger."

Porirua mayor Mike Tana told the meeting he had no answers for the pain but these would be found as people connected with each other.

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children's helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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