health & science

Māori Council slams Government’s suicide plan

The Government announced the creation of a Suicide Prevention Office on Tuesday, but has come under fire for not designing a separate Māori suicide prevention plan. Marc Daalder reports.

The Government has announced a 10-year strategy and five-year action plan for tackling record-high suicide numbers. Two weeks ago, the Chief Coroner reported that 685 people died from suicide in the 2019 financial year.

More than a quarter of those people were Māori, while Māori only make up 15 percent of the general population. Māori Council executive chairman Matthew Tukaki hit out at the Government for failing to produce a Māori-specific prevention plan.

"There is nothing in here for Māori people. There is no specific Māori suicide prevention strategy and yet Māori people have the highest suicide rate in the OECD," he said. "We expected more."

'It's like a lemon basket of bittersweet nothingness'.

The Government anticipated this line of attack well ahead of time. Mental health advocate Mike King accompanied Jacinda Ardern and Health Minister David Clark to the announcement of the plan.

"Of course it's a Māori problem," King said. "But it's a New Zealand problem first. We've got to stop targeted funding. It's a New Zealand problem first and foremost."

"Let's stop this, 'our kids are more important than your kids.' They're all kids. Every life matters. That's where we need to be. Stop all of this targeted funding, it's not helping."

When told that the new plan would involve increased funding for initiatives targeting Māori and Pasifika suicide rates, King said, "That's a question you'll have to ask the Minister."

"But I'll be fighting tooth and nail to make this a New Zealand problem. In our efforts to lift one group up, we're isolating a bigger group. This is a New Zealand problem, it's not an ethnic or economic problem. We all need to come together."

Tukaki disagees. "I think it's the biggest waste of space," he said of the plan. "It's like a lemon basket of bittersweet nothingness."

"For every Māori who takes their life, it's estimated that up to 20 would have made an attempt. Where is the strategy, Prime Minister? This Government talked a good game when it came to power that they were working in partnership with Māori. What's happened?

"What we were looking for was something bold, something brave. But it's the same old business model."

Hikoi for teen suicide awareness makes its way to Parliament in May. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

The action plan

Clark and Ardern have picked a middle ground with the new plan, offering some targeted funding but no separate Māori suicide prevention plan.

In its action plan, the Government identified eight areas where concrete change can be made. The most headline-worthy proposal, a national Suicide Prevention Office, seeks to tackle a lack of national leadership on suicide prevention.

The office will implement the rest of the action plan and coordinate strategies across the country. A "Māori advisory function" will also "advise on the work of the Suicide Prevention Office", according to the action plan.

The Government also announced the creation of a national research plan to fill gaps in knowledge on suicide and suicide prevention.

Funding has also come into play, with the Government promising to fund more community initiatives, free counselling services for the whānau of people who take their lives, full-time suicide prevention roles in every DHB, and more resources and money for emergency services staff dealing with mental health crises.

In addition to more funding, the Government wants the suicide action plan to signal the advent of a community-focused approach to suicide prevention. Whānau of people who kill themselves, people who have experienced suicidal behaviours and Māori will be asked to weigh in on developing national guidelines for DHBs and community organisations.

The number of people who took their own life reached an all-time high in the 2019 financial year. Māori suicides made up 28.2 percent of them, up to 169 from 142 the previous year. The number of Pasifika people who died by suicide jumped nearly 50 percent, to 34.

Where to get help

1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor

Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland

Youthline – 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat

Samaritans – 0800 726 666

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

What's Up – 0800 942 8787 (for 5–18 year olds). Phone counselling is available Monday to Friday, midday–11pm and weekends, 3pm–11pm. Online chat is available 7pm–10pm daily.

Kidsline – 0800 54 37 54 (0800 kidsline) for young people up to 18 years of age. Open 24/7.

thelowdown.co.nz – or email team@thelowdown.co.nz or free text 5626

Anxiety New Zealand - 0800 ANXIETY (0800 269 4389)

Rural Support Trust - 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)

Supporting Families in Mental Illness - 0800 732 825

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