Yesterday, Monday 10th September, was World Suicide Prevention Day. Mindful of the devastatingly high rates of suicide in this country, The Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) calls for more to be done to confront this urgent issue.
The fact that suicide rates have risen for four years in a row, reaching the highest levels on record, should be a cause for serious concern- and prompt determination from government to do more to tackle what is now among Aotearoa New Zealand’s most serious public health crises.
The government has initiated an inquiry
into mental health which will deliver its conclusions in
October; is trialling free counselling for 18 to
25-year-olds; has announced pay rises for 5000 mental health
and addiction support workers in addition to the development
of new mental health facilities. While these moves are
important and helpful, they alone are not sufficient.
Suicide is an issue with which social workers are only too familiar: they witness first hand the devastation that suicide can cause to families / Whanau, friends, partners and communities.
Across Aotearoa New Zealand ANZASW members work with service users who are experiencing distress, supporting them to make decisions to empower their lives and overcome adversity. In cases of acute mental health crises, social workers often help to facilitate referrals to already over-stretched services; yet in too many cases- especially where the service user is not deemed to be of immediate risk to themselves- access is hindered by long waiting lists. Tragically, this can mean that adequate help does not reach those in a vulnerable state of mind soon enough.
Marginalised and disadvantaged communities, in which social workers are active, are some of the hardest hit by suicide. Government statistics show that the issue disproportionately affects Pasifika and Maori communities; young men in general, and people living in socioeconomic deprivation; groups representing the Rainbow community have also indicated that LGBTIQ+ youth are particularly at risk; a recently, a study by Women's Refuge New Zealand found a strong link between domestic abuse and suicide.
This highlights once again the need to address marginalisation, isolation, inequality and other social factors as part of an effective suicide prevention strategy. This means that a renewed focus should be placed on tackling deprivation and structural discrimination, while services, including those in the social work sector, that provide support to at risk communities should receive greater funding.
It is also imperative that access to mental health services are improved as part of any strategy to lessen the rate of suicide in Aotearoa New Zealand; we urge the government to consider acting on this issue now rather than waiting for the inquiry and the parliamentary process that will follow it to be exhausted, which may delay much-needed legislation until well into 2019.
Furthermore, the Association believes that Lifeline, the
phone-based suicide prevention service,
should immediately receive increased financial support. Lifeline’s ability to deal with the volume of calls that it receives has been severely impacted by funding cuts- the organistaion reported recently that they miss a quarter of all calls due to diminished capacity. The anonymous service that Lifeline provides gives those in distress a chance to be heard without fear of judgment or stigma; it is astonishing that, as suicide rates continue to rise, such an important and widely-used hotline is struggling to support itself.
While the government must play an important role in tackling the suicide crisis in our country, it is also the responsibility of all of us to remain vigilant to the distress in our own communities; very often acts of kindness and non-judgmental intervention can be instrumental in pulling people back from the brink.
ANZASW urges anyone who is considering harming themselves or taking their own life to immediately reach out for help.