Carefully waiting until the new Government was in place, and the Mental Health Inquiry announced, to improve his appearance of relevance the Mental Health Commissioner – a staff member of the Health & Disability Commission – has finally pronounced on the state of mental health and suicides in New Zealand.
Not to be put off by the years-long public debate about this country leading youth suicide statistics from the wrong end, Commissioner Kevin Allan has bravely gone where no-one employed by the previous Government had hitherto dared to tread – he has actually (wait for it…) recommended a 10% reduction in suicides target!
That’s correct – not zero, not halving it, not even the mild 20% reduction that the current Health Minister suggested while in opposition – but a nice, fat, round 10%.
To give him some credit for picking up on the public mood, Commissioner Allan has called for a policy of “zero tolerance of suicide in services.” Note the wording here: “in services” – which means suicides occurring in Government-funded mental health facilities.
Last year, 180 of the 606 recorded suicides in New Zealand happened “in services”, so the “zero tolerance” is to the 180, and presumably the 10% reduction target should cause the remaining 426 suicides last year to reduce by 43 to 383 in the coming year.
Not wanting to be too sarcastic, I state here and now that ANY reduction in suicides is a good thing – but surely what this country wants is for us to aim a little higher – like for zero tolerance for ANY suicide, and for the country’s mental health services not to rest until that has been achieved?
Don’t worry about “in service” or in the community, NO suicide should be acceptable in a modern society, and I believe EVERY suicide is preventable, given the right circumstances and support arrangements.
This does not mean that the simple setting of a zero suicide target will overnight cause this terrible scourge on our society to be wiped out – it will take years of dedicated work in all the communities around New Zealand, a very significant increase in support from the Government, and a massive change in attitude and culture from the existing mental health services – but if we don’t aim for it, we sure as hell have no chance of getting anywhere near it!
Going back to my friend the ever-so-slightly irrelevant Commissioner Allan – where the hell has he been when our sons and daughters and brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers have been victims of suicides in record numbers over the last seven years?
Has he been shouting from his lofty Government position about how our mental health system is not working; or even yelling encouragement from the sidelines to those calling for changes? No, he’s been pretty damned silent, and now I suspect he has seen that the new Government has already mooted a separate Mental Health Commission, and is trying to prove his relevance while angling for a job there; maybe the top job?
I can’t help but feel cynical when I see this blatant jumping on of the bandwagon AFTER the hard work has been done – remembering in my own family’s case that Commissioner Allan’s office told us to go away and not to bother presenting our complaints about the “in service” death of our son to his office until AFTER all other avenues had been worked through. Given that – after 3 years – we don’t yet have a confirmed Coroner’s hearing, and that complaints to his office seem to take at least 2-3 years to reach fruition, we would be stupid, or naïve, or both, to put any reliance in a system run by this person.
Dave Macpherson is TDB’s mental health blogger. He became a Waikato DHB member after his son died from mental health incompetence.