Talking openly about mental health and suicide prevention

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Last month I attended part of the Waitaha Suicide Prevention Symposium organised by He Waka Tapu. Everyone there shared a common goal: a desire to see New Zealanders talk more openly about mental health and suicide prevention. It’s a conversation we must have. One in five of us are affected by mental illness every year, and 579 New Zealanders committed suicide in 2015/2016 according to provisional figures released by the Chief Coroner yesterday.

I know government has a role to play in supporting mental health and preventing suicide. Since coming to office, National has put a number of initiatives in place to do this. These include the Rising to the Challenge Mental Health and Addiction Plan, the Prime Minister’s Youth Mental Health Project, and the Suicide Prevention Action Plan. We’ve increased mental health and addiction services funding from $1.1 billion in 2008/09 to over $1.4 billion for 2015/16, but we’ve also listened to people’s calls to do more. That’s why this year’s Budget included an extra $12 million in funding over four years to make it easier for people to access mental health help earlier.

Yet getting to the heart of this issue requires more than just money. It also requires attitudinal change. While we’ve seen a shift in society’s willingness to speak openly about mental health and suicide, stigma remains. We all need to challenge this in every corner of our community – at home, at work, and on the marae.  People must be able to ask for help without fear of being judged, alienated, or embarrassed. No one should fear that reaching out will negatively impact their standing in their workplace or community.

It’s time to give up the ‘harden up’ attitude towards mental health and acknowledge it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to ask for help. And if someone asks you for help, remember that simply listening without judgement is one of the most important things you can do.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the Mental Health Foundation website for a list of places that offer support and advice. If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

This column originally appeared in the Bay Harbour News. Please note the Chief Coroner’s figures stated in my printed column were based on the 2014/2015 figures available at the time of writing.