We need to talk about suicide

Statistics show 579 people have died by suicide in New Zealand in the 2015/16 year – the highest number of suicides since the Coroner’s Office began keeping records in 2007/08.

Suicide is extremely complex and an area that I certainly don’t profess to understand. But, as a New Zealander who wants our country to thrive, it’s clear that the current situation needs to change.

Although the statistics are overwhelming it’s important to remember that suicide is preventable and as a starting point we must focus on boosting our mental wellbeing, shedding the stigma around mental illness, building supportive communities and providing education.

Youthline CEO Stephen Bell describes the need for communities to be safe and secure for our young people. Mental Health Foundation CEO Shaun Robinson has called for better education where individuals can have courageous conversations and their friends and family are guided on how to respond appropriately.

Many organisations and people are working incredibly hard, often with very limited resources, to reduce suicide levels in New Zealand. In addition to these groups and government, we each have a role to play in changing the current situation.

I talked to Youthline and the Mental Health Foundation to find out what we can do (as individuals) right now to make a difference:

  1. Build the Five Ways of Wellbeing into your day so that you are taking care of yourself and the people around you. This helps to improve resilience when things get tough.
  2. Check in with friends, family, and workmates regularly – support your community.
  3. Encourage your workplace to consider educating employees so they can deal with suicide-threat situations appropriately. Training offered by Youthline helps ensure staff can direct people to trained services.

As a country, we’ve managed to turn around some terrible statistics before. In 1987, our road toll was 795. In 2014, it was 293.  Serious injuries have fallen by 40% over the last 30 years despite growing car use and population growth.

In 30 years I hope we look back and see a similar change for our suicide statistics. I’m not saying suicide is an easy thing to solve but change is driven by an acceptance and awareness that things can’t continue the way they are.

There is also an opportunity for the government to play a greater role in providing access to treatment options. According to a report by the Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, the economic cost to New Zealand of mental illness is about $12b annually – about 20% greater than the cost of injury claims to ACC ($10b).

Equally, an opportunity exists for insurers to better understand and manage mental health claims. At Sovereign, we recognise that claimants on disability income claims need more than just financial support. That’s why we spend considerable effort supporting customers with their recovery.  For example, we offer claimants access to a dedicated case manager to help co-ordinate private psychological support, occupational therapy, vocational re-training and return to work support.  However, we recognise more must be done to help Kiwis before they need to claim.

Let’s start talking about what role we can all play in turning these statistics around.

Note: This article was prepared in collaboration with The Mental Health Foundation and Youthline.

For more information about suicide prevention see www.mentalhealth.org.nz/suicideprevention

If you or someone you know is in need of support phone:

Lifeline – 0800 543 354
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757 to talk to a trained counsellor
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
Youthline – 0800 376 633. Text 234 free between 8am and midnight, or email: talk@youthline.co.nz
Healthline – 0800 611 116

Guys, we need to talk.

The mental and physical health of men needs to improve. At present the life expectancy of New Zealand men is four years lower than females (Statistics NZ) and last year 70% of New Zealanders who took their own lives were male (Coroner’s Report).

I’ve built my career taking care of New Zealand’s top athletes including the All Blacks and the Warriors. I’m also the Chief Medical Officer at Sovereign. People often ask me what I think every man should do to take charge of his health. Here’s what I tell them:

  • Invest in a cardio risk assessment with your doctor. This should include blood pressure, BMI measure, cholesterol, and a discussion on diet and exercise. If aged over 50 have a chat about bowel and prostate cancer screening (more New Zealanders die of bowel cancer than prostate or breast cancer).
  • Get a skin check. We’re heading into summer now so it’s time to visit a clinic and get checked out. Remember to load up on sun screen and wear a hat and sunglasses when you are outside. If you are getting into the water a rash shirt helps to protect your body from the sun’s rays.
  • Regular exercise including some form of resistance exercise (body weight). Try to do something five times a week.
  • Moderation on alcohol, especially over the festive season.
  • Eat well – lots of vegetables and fruit and steer clear of too many sweet treats.
  • Be honest about mental health – if something isn’t feeling right talk to a professional who can provide guidance.
  • Don’t smoke.



It’s time to focus on our future

Stephen Bell has been there for young people for over 40 years.  As CEO of Youthline he’s in a unique position to share the biggest challenges facing young people in New Zealand today. I sat down with him to find out what he thought were the biggest challenges for New Zealand’s future.

Lack of future-orientation

When people feel secure about the future, they invest in the future.

“With so many people (not just young people) living day to day we’re seeing more and more people disenfranchised by society.”

Financial debt

It’s too easy for people to get credit, which is causing a massive credit burden amongst young people.

“It’s hard to buy a house, hard to rent even with a decent salary so what sort of future can people build? We are seeing more children staying at home (not necessarily good for the child or the parents) and, on the flip side, sleeping rough in crowded flats/on the couch.


Even with a degree, graduates are struggling to find meaningful work

“We have 21st century learners being taught by 20th century teachers, in 19th century institutions. Too many people leave school without serious qualifications. We need to create more flexibility and alternative education pathways.”


The elephant in the room that no-one is talking about.

“We have come a long way as a society to accept and celebrate sexual diversity. There is still a lot to do. Young people are being exposed to pornography in a way they never have before in another era. We don’t know what all of the potential consequences will be but we’re already seeing addiction, confused reality and shame.  We need to talk about this issue.”

Lack of community

We need to shift away from treating the problem to building our communities.

“We need to create more opportunities for young people to engage in citizenship. We can do this by creating places where they have meaningful involvement in community, making it easier to travel around, giving them opportunities to lead and influence policy and provide relevant resources and information.”

So what can we do to help the young people in our community?

“It’s not rocket science. It’s about doing the fundamentals well and consistently. Find ways to get young people involved in different activities whether it’s sport, volunteering, gaming, part-time work, dance or music. Show them where to go for help. Give them the tools to help their friends. Let’s create opportunities for young people to become leaders in their own way. We all benefit if we make this happen.”