A few months ago, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman and his Health Ministry bureaucrats took alarm at the tom toms beating out the story that the community was getting a bit alarmed at the high and growing incidence of suicide in New Zealand – and decided to re-work their 2010 strategy for suicide prevention in time for the election campaign, so they couldn’t be easily accused of the fact that they were doing bugger all about the problem.
There are some truly alarming suicide statistics in this country, like New Zealand having the highest incidence in all OECD countries of youth male suicides, and one of the worst amongst young females. That Maori and Pacific youth suicides are several times the general population average. That suicides amongst the male farming community are growing – hell, that’s a vital one, those are National voters!
So a good community-led strategy, that has some concrete targets, and even actions, attached could be a good thing? [I know, actions cost money, probably bucketloads, so a couple of pilot actions in out of the way places like the West Coast and Fiordland should do the trick.]
Well off went an earnest group of community representatives and Govt Dept bureaucrats to do the noble business. The only trouble was, the community representatives clearly got a bit bolshie and suggested the radical move of cutting suicides in NZ to no more than 112 per year (20% of current levels) should be the target the strategy was aiming to achieve. Some thought the vision, or target, should be zero, but they were argued out of that. So 20% was agreed on, and off it went to the Ministry of Health ‘editors’ to wordsmith the document to go out for ‘consultation’.
The only problem was, the Government didn’t like even the idea of a target they could actually be held to. Accountability is a concept for others, not them, so they had that removed, and other offending words sanitised, so it read like a pile of “PC waffle”, according to Panel member Mike King, who promptly up and resigned in protest.
King said in a letter the Coleman
“The plan has buried all new ideas in such impenetrable language they are beyond recognition and unlikely to ever see the light of day. It is a strategy that is so broad in its effort to please everyone it will eventually collapse under the weight of public expectation. This will please no one except you and the politicians you serve.”
In itself, the King resignation is not the biggest deal, but it piles a bit more pressure onto a Government that has been comatose at the wheel of the mental health bus, which is definitely in need of a complete re-bore, if not an engine change. This issue is becoming an election issue, despite National’s best efforts to dampen it down, and those that don’t get on the bus might actually be run over by it!
Dave Macpherson is TDB’s mental health blogger. He became a Waikato DHB member after his son died from mental health incompetence.