Warning: This article is about suicide and may be distressing for some readers.
New Zealand has the highest teen suicide rate in the developed world. When it comes to youth suicide – those 25 and under – we have the second highest rate.
Across all age groups, provisional suicide figures for 2016-17 show 606 people died by suicide in New Zealand, up from a then all-time high of 579 the year before.
In July and August the New Zealand Herald’s ‘Break The Silence’ series about youth suicide revealed how not talking about suicide has become the orthodox approach to dealing with a problem that will not go away. The overall death rate has shown no sign of sustained decrease for two decades.
It also showed the fear government wrestles with when it comes to dealing with this national tragedy.
An expert group set up to advise the Ministry of Health proposed a target of reducing the total suicide rate by 20 per cent over 10 years.
It was rejected over fears the Government would be held accountable if the rate didn’t drop. Health Minister Jonathan Coleman has since said he would be open to a 20 per cent reduction.
The problems revealed by Break The Silence signalled a crisis in almost every part of our mental health system and its ability to deal with youth suicide.
We revealed how almost 2000 young people seeking specialist mental health care were turned away or passed on, with some kids waiting up to six months for an appointment.
Research also showed that only the most serious 5 per cent of cases were being seen, with little ability to manage those with low or moderate mental health issues.
The Herald has been contacted by hundreds of affected families wanting a way back to wellness for young people.
We asked parties standing for election to give those families answers, setting out their policies for bringing down the suicide rate, outlining their particular approach to youth suicide issues should they have one. Here are the responses, in alphabetical order.
The Greens are promising free counselling for all New Zealanders aged 25 and under as part of a $260 million youth mental health package.
They will increase spending on youth mental health services by $100 million a year to reduce waiting times, provide specialist treatment and retain and value staff.
They say accessing a school counsellor is currently too difficult for many. There needs to be tagged funding and a ratio of 1 trained school guidance counsellor to 400 students.
They would integrate wellness into the school curriculum – involving developing skills among parents and other whanau – to provide young people with what they need to cope with life’s challenges.
The Greens want government to commit to zero suicides as an aspirational target so resources are focused on “ensuring that we don’t lose another person”.
A mental health review in the first 100 days will identify service gaps and needs in schools, secondary specialist services and availability of “talking therapies”.
Labour will introduce a two-year pilot “onsite talking therapies” programme of primary mental health teams at eight places across the country, working with GPs, district health boards and mental health bodies. It is expected to help nearly 40,000 people each year of the pilot at a cost of $43 million over two years.
There will be 80 full-time roles in Canterbury and Kaikōura for primary and intermediate schools to deal with post-earthquake issues and mental health needs.
There will be school-based health services in every state secondary school to assist with mental health.
Labour will re-establish an independent mental health commissioner and is considering a suicide reduction target.
It says its wider health policy will also help, with cheaper GP visits, increased funding for GP training and a review of primary care funding to reduce barriers to accessing care.
The Māori Party seeks more funding and an expansion of Oranga Rangatahi, which gained $8 million in this year’s budget to develop projects to equip young Māori with the weapons to fight “the scourge of suicide”.
Oranga Rangatahi builds on the work of the Rangatahi Suicide Prevention Fund, set up in 2015, which saw 38 community and youth-led initiatives funded. It is producing “real and tangible results”.
Young Māori are two-and-a-half times more likely to take their lives than non-Māori. The Māori Party seeks to resource whānau to develop solutions to suicide in “prevention, post-vention and health promotion approaches”.
That includes the aim to lower the threshold to access appropriate support for individuals experiencing distress. The party also commits to reducing health disparities for Māori by increasing the number of youth and whānau services targeting addiction and mental health.
The Māori Party also seeks to resource and carry out the Turamarama Declaration, which was developed by Sir Mason Durie and tabled at last year’s World Indigenous Suicide Prevention Conference. It aims to place suicide prevention at the centre of government and society priorities and to develop tools to tackle it.
The drivers behind suicide are complex and it is a “whole of society issue”.
National says evidence shows mental health services need to change to “build resilience in young people to help them better deal with mental health issues and to learn how to overcome known risk factors”.
This is being done through a recently announced $100 million social investment fund for mental health, which aims to provide better access to effective and responsive mental health services. This new approach is being supported by the Government’s chief science advisers.
National is “open” to setting an aspirational suicide reduction target.
It has announced Lifekeepers, a new suicide prevention training programme to help communities “build the capability and capacity to support people at risk of suicide”.
Submissions received during consultation on a draft suicide prevention strategy will be incorporated into the final advice provided to the Government and help inform the wider mental health work currently under way.
New Zealand First
Current funding is insufficient and poorly allocated and funds will be allocated in line with a national mental health inquiry.
NZ First says there will be an independent inquiry into the funding of the public health system.
It pledges to increase the number of mental health and addiction nurses at all DHBs and to increase options for treatment with a community, rather than medical, view of services.
Along with increasing staff numbers, there will be an increase in the number of acute and non-acute beds and accommodation units for the mentally ill.
NZ First will also “modify the process of judicial review of decisions to release mentally ill patients into the community”.
Work is continuing to finalise the policy which “won’t be available before the 2017 general election”.
United Future says there needs to be increased funding for youth-focused mental health services including better workforce development.
The increased funding includes youth-focused counselling services as a first response rather than “over-prescribing pharmaceuticals for mental health problems”.
DHBs also need to develop secure facilities for the treatment of young people with mental health problems.
United Future wants increased funding for more research into child and youth suicide. There also needs to be more research for youth-related health problems such as suicide, alcoholism, and bulimia, it says.
And it wants additional community health providers and more resources for mental health professionals.
The Opportunities Party
Social and economic isolation and disadvantage is a major cause of our suicide epidemic, says TOP.
Its fair tax reform and asset tax will soften house price growth and ease financial stress on working people. Tenancy reform will give low-income earners the stability of a “home” whether as owners or renters.
The Unconditional Basic Income of $200 a week gives young people “in the midst of the most difficult life transition” the ability to pursue dreams and manage their lives.
Cannabis reform takes $150 million off dealers and puts it into drug and alcohol education and rehabilitation. It will allow people to ask for help without the threat of criminal sanction.
“Of course more needs to be spent on treating those with mental illness in the here-and-now and TOP will support such spending.”
But “the real big picture answer is to create a society and economy which doesn’t leave so many people alienated and desperate”.
WHERE TO GET HELP:
If you are worried about your or someone else’s mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.
If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:
DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234
There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.