Police are responding to suicide attempts and threats 67 times a day but new cadets enter the force with just eight hours of mental health training.
Last financial year 685 people took their own lives but figures from the New Zealand Police’s 2018/19 annual report show officers were called out 24,662 times to people attempting or threatening to – an average of 67 a day and a 10 per cent increase from the previous year.
With a mental health system struggling to keep up with demand, 111 has become the first point of contact when people are in crisis, pushing police officers to the frontline of a mental health crisis.
On top of suicide callouts police also received 32,994 other mental health calls for events such as psychosis or people in distress.
When ill equipped Police are the frontline to our mental health and suicide crisis, we are in deep, deep trouble.
The horror of our suicide rate gives us a glimpse behind the ‘she’ll be right’ facade of our culture and the dark torment of an alpha male macho mental landscape that is terribly fragile.
Our under funded social infrastructure, our ‘me first’ consumerism, our 30 years of neoliberal mythology, our disconnection from one another, our untreated pain, our lack of hope from grinding poverty in a first world country, our damaged masculinity, the intergenerational consequences of colonialism, our unspoken rage culture, our inability to express emotion beyond anger – all of this demands questions we don’t want to hear as a society and the shame of suicide continues to hide and smother any healing.
In a society that has no religious faith and all the cultural maturity of a can of coke, the bonds which keep us attached are frail and disconnected. In our fetishisation of individualism we have lost the central part of the human condition – connection.
We have traded in our interwoven threads of whanau, friendship and kin for a rat race where no one wins.
The reason we can’t talk about suicide is because we can’t stand to talk about the dark treacle of self hate and loneliness at the core of consumer culture. We don’t dare confront the hollowness of our existence on these far flung crags of rock for fear of what we will reveal about ourselves.
Damaged individuals competing for a self identity too fragile for the storms and tempests of life.
Thanks to neoliberalism, we are further from each other than ever before.
Look at the manner in which our suicide rates jumped after the neoliberal reforms of the 1980s, where we moved away from the communal towards the individual…
…we huddle frightened on these lonely rocks at the end of the world and slowly one by one slip off into the swallowing dark. Until we are prepared to confront many of the individualism-over-all myths and rebuild our tattered communities, our suicide rate will remain reminding us of our whispered deceptions.
We refuse to ask the why of suicide because we are too frightened to know the answer is a reflection of the shallow and lonely community we have become. Instead we reel off a list of phone numbers whenever we dare mention suicide as if that means a fucking thing.
We are broken and no one wants to admit that.