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

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