7 Aug 2017

Suicide reduction target back on table

7:28 pm on 7 August 2017

The government is reconsidering setting a target for reducing suicide rates after getting advice from experts.

Jonathan Coleman.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman Photo: The Wireless: RNZ/Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The government had been urged to set a goal of cutting suicides by 20 percent over 10 years in its new prevention strategy, but was criticised last month for instead setting a more general goal of reducing suicide.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said New Zealand must get its suicide rate down, and addressing mental health in general was his top priority.

He had been listening to experts and now accepted there could be benefits in setting a target.

"I've met some people who have worked in this area, specifically some people from the Zero Suicide group, and the point they made is actually setting targets changes the culture within the mental health workforce - it galvanises society around focussing on what you can do to intervene with this problem," Dr Coleman said.

"It does seem that setting a goal, and it may be aspirational but that doesn't matter, actually just focuses efforts."

Dr Coleman said he had never been philosophically opposed to a target, but felt that the government didn't control all the levers to reduce suicide rates and that it required a whole-of-society response.

"It's families, sports clubs, schools, looking after your mates - yes the government has an input... but there's not a magic wand on this stuff. It needs increased awareness, it needs people to be on the look-out," he said.

There was rising pressure in the mental health area, he said. Eight years ago, about 96,000 people sought specialist help; last year, it was about 168,000.

A 'courageous decision'

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson said a target would be a great move as it would galvinise action.

"It becomes very much a courageous decision to say 'yes, we are going to make a difference here'.

Mr Robinson said a target of reducing suicide by 20 percent in the next 10 years was a realistic goal.

"That's in line with the World Health Organisation's recommendations, it's in line with the sort of target that Scotland set and Scotland came very close to achieving that - I think they achieved an 18 percent reduction within the time they set themselves.

"Of course we'd all like to set a target of zero deaths by suicide and that must be the ultimate goal."

Labour's health spokesperson David Clark welcomed the U-turn, saying a target was a good way to track progress.

"If you really are focussed on reducing suicide and we should be as a country because our figures are disgraceful, we need to know whether we're succeeding or failing and we need to hold governments to account for the action or inaction they take," Dr Clark said.

Last month the prime minister's chief science adviser asked the government to do more to ensure children could cope with stress in order to reduce the youth suicide rate, which is twice as bad as America's and almost five times worse than Britain's rate.

Last year 579 people committed suicide in New Zealand.

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

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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