Government only pretends to care about suicide


One of the government’s 186 inquiries has been completed and a report was released on Tuesday on Mental Health and Addiction. It has been described as vague in parts.  Stuff reports:  Quote:

[…] The report, which mentioned the word ‘wellbeing’ 200 times before I gave up counting (it had started to blur into ‘warbling’), laid out New Zealand’s bold new future to help people in distress. It had a strong focus on prevention in its 40 recommendations. Hopefully, the Government doesn’t cherry pick the easy solutions at the expense of the sometimes messy truth of long-term mental health and addiction.

During the 2017 election campaign many health professionals were concerned about the prospect of another mental health inquiry if Labour won. But their voices were drowned out by vocal campaigners – some of whom have gone very quiet this year – and labelled as bureaucratic stiffs. Even one of the panel members, former mental health commissioner Barbara Disley, was sceptical. Earlier this year she told me changed her mind because the panel was tasked with a short time-frame.

In 2017, Mental Health Commissioner Kevin Allan appeared before a select committee stating an “urgent need for action” rather than another costly review. We already know the solutions, he said.

In a letter backing up his submission he said: “Funded treatment and care options for the approximately 17 per cent of people with mental health needs who do not qualify for specialist services are limited.”

He should be heartened to see the panel recommended specialist services – which cater for 3.6 per cent of the population – be expanded to cater for 20 per cent. Although, maybe he will be annoyed that this is something people already knew needed to be changed. We could have spent the intervening year figuring out a plan to increase the workforce to deal with such a change.

An inquiry is an easy promise because it stalls time – it will be 17 months since Labour came into power by the time the Government formally responds in March.

While we waited for the results of the inquiry, it would have been useful to increase funding to Mental Health and Addiction Services, but the Government opted to wait until the inquiry was released. It would have been useful to test out pilot programmes.

The irony that the report recommended a police and mental health worker response to emergency callouts (instead of solely police, a process that can be traumatising) won’t be lost on those who were dismayed to see a similar proposed pilot cut this year. Many organisations also held back on planning, waiting to see what direction the inquiry was going to follow.

In the meantime our suicide rate jumped to its highest since 1999.  End of quote.

That’s a lot of information, so let’s recap. 

In 2017, the Mental Health Commissioner Kevin Allan said he didn’t want a costly review. He said urgent action was needed. He also said that we already knew the solutions. His knowledge and expertise were ignored.

The government then sets up an inquiry.

The government cancels a proposed pilot that would have seen mental health workers respond to emergency call-outs instead of just the police.

Twelve months pass.

Our suicide rate jumps to its highest in almost 20 years.  As of June 2018, 668 people had committed suicide in the previous 12 months.

No pro-active steps are taken. No effort is made to train more mental health workers. No trials are undertaken.

The government has kicked the can further down the road, and will not formally respond to the report until March next year.

How many more people will die between now and then?

Where is our government of kindness?   Quote:

[…] Health Minister David Clark will be feeling immense pressure right now. But this can’t be a surprise. Labour campaigned on mental health, particularly youth suicide. Former Health Minister Jonathan Coleman was called “the doctor of death” by Labour’s Kelvin Davis.

There was even the odd linking of immigration to youth suicide on the Labour party Facebook page. Jacinda Ardern made headlines when attending the PSA’s ‘Yes we Care’ campaign which toured 606 shoes across the country to raise awareness of suicide. She said she wanted to bring the suicide number down to zero: “Because anything else suggests we have a tolerance for loss to suicide in New Zealand”. The report recommended a 20 per cent reduction by 2030.  End of quote.

Words are easy, aren’t they Jacinda?  It’s easy to say that you want to bring the suicide number down to zero.  It makes a good soundbite.  It sounds like you care.  Yet in your first 17 months in government, there have been no steps taken that will actually make a difference to someone in distress.  Just talk.  No kindness.


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