The latest suicide figures from the coroner are awful. New Zealand’s toll for the year to June 2019 hit a new high of 685 with the last month the worst ever at 79. The annual numbers for Nelson and Marlborough were 20 up from 12 the year before. Words cannot describe the anguish and grief that goes with each life lost.
The suicide issue requires sensitivity and compassion. There is no place for the blame game or partisan politics. We need to heed the expert evidence that excessive publicity can risk more deaths but we also need to confront the hard questions.
My local constituency work this month included dealing with a tragic death at Franklin Village early on Sunday 1st September. The man had fallen on tough times over winter, knew he was not OK and sought help. Our Emergency Department turned him away in the days prior. He met, supported by friends, with the Mental Health Community Assessment Team the night prior. His friends were horrified by the way his suicidal concerns were dismissed and care refused. His death, like many others, was preventable.
I am following up his case with our District Health Board and the Suicide Prevention Office. My worry is that I am getting an increasing number of complaints about deteriorating mental health services. Staff morale is low, turnover has been awful and too many good professionals have resigned. The Health Board, Chair and CEO have fairly heard my concerns. They are frustrated that none of the promised additional resources from Government have yet materialised for front line services.
Preventing suicide is a really tough issue. The current and previous Governments have both taken initiatives to reverse the tide. This month there was cross party agreement to work together on the issue. We need a science based approach that taps into the very best evidence on what will work.
We also need to be cautious of change that will make the problem worse. I worry that the debate on euthanasia feeds a culture that some lives are not worth living. I am also concerned that liberalizing cannabis will just add to our mental health and suicide woes.
Part of the solution is ensuring people are connected and valued. That’s why I am such a strong supporter of sports, arts, church and other community groups that enable people to be engaged with their community. We must also salute all the social service organisations in Nelson, whether it is the Male Room, Women’s Refuge, Age Concern, school councillors and youth workers that are everyday helping people in crisis.
I have a duty to help get our public services working better to prevent these ongoing tragedies but change requires we all do our bit. We all need to be open to seeking support. We need at home, work and in our community to better care for each other. Every life matters.
Where you can find help and support:
- Lifeline 0800 543 354
- Youthline 0800 376 633
- Suicide Crisis Help Line 0508 828 865