This has been a busy week on the mental health front for the Prime Minister, taking over from the Health Minister twice to announce new initiatives on the mental health and suicide prevention fronts.
Finally, after almost two years in office, the Government has released part of its suicide prevention strategy, with Jacinda Ardern grabbing hold of the policy reins and announcing the establishment of a Suicide Prevention Office, “to address New Zealand’s historically high rate of suicide”. It’s been “historically high” for each of the last five years or more but, hey, better late than never.
Two days earlier, Ardern also announced a small mental health pilot scheme, where 20 community-based mental health services in 6 areas of the country will get extra resources to provide basic mental health support through GPs and kaupapa Maori providers. When the majority of the country will get this boost was not announced.
In the nine months since the Mental Health Inquiry released its Report, there has been precious little change in this area – no new announcements until this week, and the same old people running the show from their Ministry of Health and DHB fortresses. So it’s good that the PM has got the message that the Ministry and their Minister are not on top of the things that need to change, and has taken over the running of the strategy herself – it’s almost as if she’s been reading our recent comments in The Daily Blog!
The strategy “focuses on promoting wellbeing, responding to suicidal distress and behaviour, supporting individuals, whanau and communities after a suicide” – all really necessary goals that the community have been calling for years for; but here’s the kicker; the new Suicide Prevention Office will be ‘housed and supported by the Ministry of Health initially, with the intention of becoming a standalone office in coming years.’
Forgive my cynicism, but perhaps not that of the many social media commenters whose families have come through the agony of losing a loved one, and not only received no support from officialdom, but very often opposition from the Ministry of Health and their DHBs. And that of Matthew Tukaki, Chair of the NZ Maori Council, who immediately said “It’s not independent it’s a unit of the MoH.”
Tukaki and his Council announced their own suicide prevention initiatives on the same day, targeting Maori men, and men in general. The Maori Council clearly, and justifiably, don’t trust that any body that’s perceived as under the thumb of the Ministry of Health, will deliver for those most affected by suicide.
Mike King, who had resigned from the previous Government’s Suicide Prevention Panel, is somewhat back in the fold, called it an “inclusive plan”, urging all to “stop playing politics with people’s lives and come together as a country and let’s do something about this.”
The Action Plan attached to the Government strategy will, according the PM’s announcement, ‘identify and address gaps in suicide prevention and post-vention information and progress a national research plan, review the coronial investigative process and implement a free national suicide bereaved counselling service.
For that reason alone, I am going to start in Mike King’s corner and give the plan a chance – but I won’t be naïve enough to think it can be left to MoH-led people and groups to get real action going, and I definitely won’t forget Matthew Tukaki’s assertion that there is nothing “independent” about the new group!
Dave Macpherson – TDB mental health blogger & Former Waikato DHB Elected Member who lost his son to suicide and Waikato DHB gross negligence.