Image: This photo was taken at a Ministry of Health Workshop earlier this year as official's traveled the country when it came to the current suicide prevention strategy. Participants were asked how they felt about the workshop and their feedback on the content of the strategy. If you don't feel great you get a green sticker to place next to the unhappy face. IMAGE: EntreHub / EHNSB (C)
The calls for an inquiry into suicide and mental health services is growing louder by the day as news emerges that New Zealand Police have confirmed the deaths of five young people in the Northland town of Kaitaia since May this year. Kaiatia now ranks alongside another Northland town, Kaikohe, where there were six similar.
The spate of suicides in Kaikohe at the time led to young people taking to the streets with Ngapuhi leader, Sonny Tau, saying “the march is a show of strength about the seriousness with which they take the issue.” Now its another Northland leader, Ricky Houghton of He Korowai Trust, who’s own nephew passed away less than a month ago raising the issue of suicide as a matter of urgency: "The people are feeling doomed. There's a sense of hopelessness and helplessness of the young people," he said.
"It's just a sign of how they believe their future is. They believe the sun isn't going to come up any more and that there is no future. They just feel they are doomed." He told media.
Between 2007-2008 and the end of 2015 4,351 New Zealanders took their lives. In 2014-15 the number was 564 and of that number 62 were between the ages of 10-19.
Mike King, founder of the Key to Life Charitable Trust knows Kaitaia and Kaikohe well: “On July 25th the Key to Life Charitable Trust was asked by Nina Griffith to facilitate a community korero in Kaitaia. The meeting was an opportunity for young people to voice their concerns about the current crisis and offer up solutions from a youth perspective. One hundred and eighty members of the community including Ricky Houghton and St Johns ambulance staff turned to support the well advertised event.”
King continued: “However all other major services responsible for young people's wellbeing bothered to turn up including CYFS, the DHB and Ngati Hine. It seems to me that the only time anyone hears from them is when there is a tragedy or a reporter present. Until these organisations stop trying to force their outdated intervention solutions on communities and start listening to the people most affected by this insidious epidemic it is unlikely we will see any changes in the near future.”
Respected psycologist Kyle MacDonald has gone further: “How have we reached a point in Aotearoa where our young people feel bereft of hope? How is it thati in one small town in Northland five young people in twelve weeks would take their own lives? How did we get here? This is an ongoing national tragedy that we keep getting told we can’t talk about.”
The stories are mounting. Nina Griffiths, a local Kaitaia girl who organised the meeting Mike King talked about said at the time: "For myself, I lost two mates in the last couple of months and we shouldn't have to lose so many before we do something. The reluctance to talk about it or do something is not working as a preventative,"
The response from the New Zealand Government has been confusing. EHNSB posed several simple questions to the Government; to both the Minister of Health and the Prime Minister’s Office. A spokesperson in the Prime Ministers Office indicated that the Health Minister would respond on behalf of the Government. After several emails back and forth this is some of what was said:
Firstly when context was given that the rate of suicide in 2014-15 was 564 compared to the national road toll for the same period of 361 we were told “this issue is not comparable with road deaths.” Mike King from the Key to Life Charitable Trust was taken aback by the statement “given that the number of deaths was nearly double the road toll and that we spend tens of millions of dollars through awareness campaigns attempting to prevent deaths on the road how is it not comparable?”
Mr Colemans office provided then provided us with a speech he gave to a conference in Auckland last week. In it Mr Coleman says “The Government has increased mental health and addiction services funding from $1.1 billion in 2008/09 to over $1.4 billion for 2015/16. “ and “Funding for primary mental health services has increased progressively over time from $5 million in 2005/06 to $29.3 million in 2015/16. “ and goes on to say that “In response to the increases in demand mental health services in New Zealand have been on a transformational journey.” Before saying that “These changes have had positive impacts for mental health clients as well as helping to address pressures on the system.”
Mike King poses the question “if that’s the case, that the changes have had positive impacts, then why have been deaths been on the increase for the last decade?”
The current suicide prevention strategy that has been in place for a decade has been the subject of much criticism in so far as no evaluation framework was put in in place at the outset and therefore there is no evidence to prove what has worked and what has not. NZ First Member of Parliament, Barbara Stewart had to submit an official information request to get to the bottom of how, or if, suicide prevention programs were being evaluated:
“The current New Zealand Suicide Prevention Strategy finishes at the end of 2016. But information released to New Zealand First from the Ministry of Health shows no evaluation of the strategy has been undertaken from at least January 2015.”
Director of Mental Health, John Crawshaw, has previously said that the suicide prevention strategy review was underway. Workshops have already been held around the country to garner feedback using the tried and tested method of smiley faces and butcher paper.
We sought to ask two specific questions of the New Zealand Government:
Will the Government initiate an inquiry into the suicides of young people in Northland - this includes the five deaths in Kaitaia and the six last year in Kaikohe.
Was there an evaluation framework for the effectiveness of programs under the last suicide prevention strategy and action plan - yes, or no. If not, why not.
Both remain unanswered. We have also sought comment in relation to the image attached to this article.
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