1 Nov 2018

Porirua deaths: 'We know we need to do better'

5:26 pm on 1 November 2018

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says it's clear the country has failed to deal with suicide and depression.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

She visited East Porirua near Wellington today to announce a massive housing project.

The suburb has been rocked by six sudden deaths since June, mostly of young people.

Ms Ardern said the high rates of harm showed mental health services had not coped.

"It's clear we've failed, it's clear," she said.

"We know we need to do better. We've started by rolling out services in schools."

Other resources had gone to help children in Canterbury.

She said the government was committed to coming up with a plan and was waiting for the result of the mental health and addiction inquiry, due later this month.

The national suicide prevention strategy lapsed in 2016 and has not been replaced because the Health Ministry is waiting until it sees the mental health inquiry's recommendations.

Health authorities are able to declare a "suicide cluster" if the people affected are closely linked socially or geographically. Such a move can ramp up the urgency of the response.

But in Porirua East, it remained unclear if a cluster had been declared.

Regional Public Health doctor Stephen Palmer told RNZ it was up to the District Health Board to declare a cluster.

But the DHB said: "The Ministry of Health would be best placed to answer the question around determination and identification of a cluster. This decision is made by the Ministry and Regional Public Health."

The Ministry put the suicide response back on the DHB.

"DHBs need to lead postvention responses to suicide clusters in their region, in partnership with the community."

It gave a generic explanation of a cluster.

"A suicide cluster is the relatively rare phenomenon in which multiple suicides or suicide attempts occur closer together in time or geography, or through social connections, than would normally be expected.

"Suicide clusters may initiate widespread community concern and increase the risk of subsequent suicidal behaviour (this is referred to as suicide contagion). Responses to possible clusters need to be rapid and intensive.

"The immediate aim of any postvention response is to manage a cluster or contagion, calm community distress and anxiety and minimise the risk of further suicidal behaviour."

A national service called Clinical Advisory Services Aotearoa (CASA) kicks in when there was the "presence of contagion and clusters", it said.

CASA has now set up in Porirua East, said Capital and Coast DHB.

But Dr Palmer said CASA was only involved because Regional Public Health was one staff member short at present.

"These steps are part of a short-term solution to address the current immediate need in the area, and further work is underway to provide a long-term strategy," the DHB's Mental Health, Addictions and Intellectual Disability Service general manager Nigel Fairley said in a statement.

Short-term, two mental health workers have been funded to work with four local colleges, an alternative school and a youth activity centre.

A Community Postvention Response Service is also working beside the DHB in Porirua. It works to ensure responses are "evidence-based and safe but responsive to individual geographical and cultural needs", the DHB said.

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.