24 Jan 2018

'I don't want any more people to die'

8:35 am on 24 January 2018

Jane Stevens says the launch of a mental health inquiry has given her hope for the first time since her son's suicide three years ago.

Jane Stevens' son Nicky, 21, killed himself after he was let out on an unsupervised smoke break while he was on suicide watch.

Jane Stevens' son Nicky, 21, killed himself after he was let out on an unsupervised smoke break while he was on suicide watch. Photo: Supplied / Jane Stevens

The government announced the independent inquiry yesterday and the panel of experts will have just nine months to investigate a wide range of issues.

The six-person team, led by former Health and Disability Commissioner Ron Paterson, will canvas addiction, suicide, psychiatric illness, mental well-being and ACC - and the Prime Minister has said nothing is off the table.

Ms Stevens said it had been a long time coming.

More than 170,000 New Zealanders accessed mental health services last year and the country's suicide rate is still alarmingly high - the latest statistic showing around 606 dealths in a year.

"I don't want any more people to die. I don't want any other families to join the club I'm in," Ms Stevens said.

Jane Stevens' son Nicky, 21, killed himself after he was let out on an unsupervised smoke break while he was on suicide watch.

Nicky died aged 21. Photo: Supplied / Jane Stephens

Her son Nicky, 21, was let out on an unsupervised smoke break while on suicide watch at Waikato District Health Board in March 2015.

Ms Stevens was ecstatic a mental health inquiry would finally be launched.

"This is the first time in a very, very long time that I've felt a sense of hope - a huge sense of relief that people are listening," she said.

However, Ms Stevens was concerned the inquiry would canvas too many aspects and she wanted to see it split into parts.

"This is a complex set of issues, and we need to be looking at things like the deeper causal factors. If we don't actually address those things then all we're doing is being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, and that's going to take longer than one inquiry."

The independent inquiry is part of Labour's 100 day plan.

It aims to find the unmet needs in mental health and addiction, identfiy the groups of people most likely to need services, and recommend specific changes to improve the system.

The government said the scope of the inquiry was intentionally broad.

Panel chair Ron Paterson said the panel's first priority would be working out how to approach the huge task ahead of them.

"Everything's on the table and we can look very broadly ... beyond the health sector to other sectors where people are being affected by these issues."

The inclusion of addiction was important, he said.

"Half of the people with drug and alcohol problems also have a mental health problem."

The last major mental health inquiry, the 1996 Mason Report, had focused on stigma and discrimination against those with mental health issues, Mr Paterson said.

"We've made a lot of progress in that area... It gives me some hope that we can change and we can make some [new] progress."

Social media was likely to feature as an issue in the inquiry, he said.

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson agreed there is a lot for the panel to cover, but he was quietly optimistic.

"We're very pleased to see a lot of the references to the front end of the issues to things such as recognising the impact of poverty, racism and family violence on mental health," he said.

Health Minister David Clark said most of the hearings would be held in public across the country, and in some circumstances provide anonymity for some submissions.

National Party leader Bill English said an inquiry was not needed.

"The stresses in mental health services, those can be written down and described in a week, it's a bit of a replacement for action actually."

The panel will report back in October, and the government says it will respond accordingly, including a potential boost to funding.

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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