2 Nov 2018

Porirua deaths were 'absolutely' preventable - Youth worker

7:00 am on 2 November 2018

A Porirua community is heartbroken about six sudden deaths but they could have been prevented, a youth worker says.

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A Porirua community is grieving after six sudden deaths since June. Photo: 123rf

Joan Buchanan, who runs the Spirit of Rangatahi programme, said key DHB staff appeared to be unaware of the crisis for months.

She won't name names but it is clear she thinks the ball's been badly dropped by the Capital and Coast District Health Board.

"I sat at a meeting at the beginning of October. There were key people in the DHB [who] had only heard about the deaths the week before," she said.

"Now, how come they didn't know? Why wouldn't they have been involved? They're involved now, which is great, but it's three or four months later."

The first death was in June.

A regional public health worker did respond early on, Ms Buchanan said, but she was surprised that others didn't.

"They had joined the dots but they hadn't brought in the resources accordingly."

The DHB has been approached for comment.

Health authorities are able to categorise sudden deaths as a suicide cluster or contagion event, which is meant to trigger rapid and intensive action to prevent any spread.

RNZ has been trying unsuccessfully all week to clarify if that has happened in East Porirua.

Neither the DHB, the Health Ministry nor Regional Public Health (RPH) have been able to tell RNZ, with RPH saying it was up to the DHB, and the DHB saying it was up to RPH and the ministry.

The wider failure, Ms Buchanan said, came down to underfunded, underevaluated programmes or none at all, such as the lack of any Pasifika suicide bereavement programme in Porirua.

"Everyone's heart is broken with these kids that have taken their own lives, but everyone knows that this could have been prevented a long time ago."

The deaths were "absolutely" preventable, she said.

The theme of mental health services' failure got backing from a highly placed source - the prime minister.

Jacinda Ardern was in Porirua yesterday to launch a $1.5 billion rejuvenation plan for the suburb. It was upbeat... until questions turned to the spate of deaths.

"I've seen occurrences where that's happened in other communities, where it has such a deep effect when there's such a close-knit community and so many affected by that loss, and I think it just speaks to the work that we know that we need to keep doing," Ms Ardern said.

"The issues we have around rates of depression, rates of suicide, it's clear we've failed, it's clear. We know we need to do better."

Ms Ardern is promising a government plan to improve care.

A government mental health inquiry was established in January and its panel has heard a raft of submissions

But a logjam is developing around the mental health inquiry; it hasn't reported back, and the Health Ministry won't relaunch a national suicide prevention strategy until after it does.

That dismays retired psychiatric nurse and East Porirua community leader Salevao Manase.

"By the time it goes to Parliament, comes to Ministry of Health, to Capital and Coast, it will probably take another year, and I don't think that's good enough," he said.

Delayed plans and delayed strategies delayed action, Ms Buchanan said.

"We can't wait," she said, citing the need for ethnically diverse but cooperative programmes that were evaluated to make sure they worked.

"I've been trying to get training in that community for a long time and nobody's come up and said, 'Hey, here's some money'."

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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