This last week another young person has died in Kaitaia, seemingly of suicide. This makes five in the last twelve weeks.
There is no doubt this is a tragic series of events, but shockingly it is no longer unusual in Aotearoa. Last year we lost 564 Kiwi’s to suicide, and while this is a shockingly high number (around 11 per week) there have been some, including an ex-coroner, who have questioned the reporting methods and believe this may even be under-reporting the reality.
Suicide prevention is key, but what is also increasingly clear is that we have a Mental Health system in this country that is broken, underfunded and increasingly unable to respond to the growing tide of people requiring psychiatric care and treatment, including those at risk of suicide.
Yet, we have a Director of Mental Health who continues to glibly report “increased access” and the success of regional projects as evidence the mental health policies of this government are working.
This is not what I hear “from the trenches.”
My colleagues who are working in the system around the country paint a very different picture. One where they are limited from doing the basics of their job by inadequate resourcing, are limited in the time they can spend with patients by onerous, and increasingly pointless reporting requirements, and stressed to the point of burnout that they no longer have the time to engage and treat the clients that keep rolling through the door.
Recently I spoke with a very senior clinician who has worked in the system for over twenty years. And for the first time in their career they told me they were waking up in the morning and not wanting to go to work.
Why? Because he felt he was no longer able to make a difference. He was being prevented from doing his job: engaging with people in distress and giving them hope.
My friend and colleague Mike King often says we are in the “hope selling business”. And he’s right. But selling hope takes time. It takes a relationship, and it takes expertise.
So I agree with Ricky Houghton of He Korowai Trust when he says the recent deaths in Kaitaia “reflects a pervasive feeling of hopelesssness in the town … [Houghton] said the deaths were a sign of "a community in crisis".”
Except these deaths, along with last years 564 are actually a sign of a country in crisis. They are also a sign of a Mental Health system in crisis.
And these signs point to one thing: we need a National Review of our Mental Health services. We owe it to our rangatahi to do everything we can to give them hope.
But it shouldn’t be this hard to sell.
Kyle MacDonald is an experienced Psychotherapist, regular co-Host on the NewstalkZB Mental Health talkback radio show “The Nutters Club” and a NZ Herald weekly columnist. He is on the National Council of the New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists, and is their Chair of Public Issues. For more see: psychotherapy.org.nz
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or suicidal tendencies, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit Lifeline.org.au or in New Zealand on 0800 543 354
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