18 Jun 2021

New Zealand's high suicide rate: call for clearer pathway from government

2:46 pm on 18 June 2021

A young woman who lost her father to suicide is calling for more transparency from the government on what is being done to tackle the country's high suicide rate.

Doctor (gynecologist or psychiatrist) consulting and examining woman patient's health in medical clinic or hospital health service center

A woman is frustrated the country's suicide statistics are only available up until 2016. Photo: 123RF

Last year, Grace Curtis launched an online suicide awareness and mental health campaign Cool Change NZ - named after her father's funeral song.

However, she said finding information for her cause had been frustrating - something the Mental Health Foundation agreed needed to change.

After her father's death last year Curtis tried to find answers.

"I became curious about the system and what was going wrong and so I've been trying acquire information for quite some time now and it seems pretty difficult," she said.

Her latest frustration is being unable to find a breakdown of mental health funding in this year's Budget.

Last month she decided to make an Official Information request to get the figures, but was warned of a lengthy wait by others who had gone through the same process.

"From some of the people I've been talking to it's been months of trying to acquire information and we don't have months, people are dying now, so we need information.

Another problem very personal to her was the fact the confirmed suicide statistics are only available online up until 2016.

"It's frustrating and also disappointing, because for families like mine their loved ones aren't even a statistic yet."

Mental Health Foundation also concerned

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson was unsurprised people were finding it hard to find information.

"You know it's a shame and something needs to change. I think the ministry's website is a bit of a labyrinth and you really have to be an IT ninja to find what you are actually looking for," he said.

Robinson said those concerns had been heard by the ministry and he believed it was working towards change, which was encouraging.

"To give the public confidence that progress is being made, given that it will take years to really get on top of the issues, we need to make sure really good, accessible information is available, because the problems are still there and if people can't find information they are going to think the worst - that nothing is happening."

He said it was not just a matter for the Health Ministry but all government agencies.

National Party mental health spokesperson Matt Doocey said people wanted assurances from the government that said it would transform the mental health system.

"They've heralded large funding announcements in Budget 2019, but clearly when people ask questions about how much funding is being spent, where it is being spent and what difference it's making no one can seem to get a clear answer.

"I think that's hugely concerning because we need to have trust and confidence in our public sector," he said.

Govt aims for timely release of information - Minister

In a statement, Health Minister Andrew Little said the government worked hard to provide information and data in a timely way.

Little said Grace's OIA was being worked on but more generally, the ministry worked on timely and transparent release of information through OIAs.

Her request was still within the 20 working day limit given for responses.

"The breadth of information about people accessing mental health and addiction services, and the performance of those services, is significant.

"That's why we've collated the various pieces of publicly available data into a new area of the Ministry's website so people can find the information in one place," he said.

Data on suspected self-inflicted deaths for the 2019/2020 period is available on the Ministry of Justice website.

But the Minister said coronial rulings of suicide can take many years, which is why suicide data from 2017 onwards is not available yet.

The 2017 suicide data is expected to be published in the coming weeks, he 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) or text 4202

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 (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm 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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