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No easy answers to tackling suicide

Research confirms no easy answers to tackling suicide

There are no quick fix programmes that can be implemented to significantly cut the suicide rate, says Associate Health Minister, Jim Anderton.

Releasing two reports that review the latest research on suicide prevention, Mr Anderton said the reasons why people take their own lives are complex.

"Research into what causes people to commit suicide, and how to prevent suicide, is subject to a lot of debate and there are diverse views about where the focus for prevention should lie," Mr. Anderton said.

The first report released today, Suicide Prevention in New Zealand: A contemporary perspective - Social explanations for suicide in New Zealand, is authored by Dr Sunny Collings. The report summarizes a suite of six reports commissioned by the Ministry of Health from the Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences between 2001 and 2004. The material explores a range of possible social explanations, analyses and evidence about New Zealand's suicide trends.

Mr Anderton said the broad consensus arising from the research examined in Dr Collings' report is that social factors are relevant to suicide and that there is evidence that socio-economic factors have an impact. However, although a range of characteristics of society are associated with suicide rates, Dr Collings concludes that it is difficult to establish causal relationships, Mr Anderton said.

The report points to areas that show promise for the development of suicide prevention programmes.

The approaches that stood out include: Population-based programmes that address depression and alcohol use; promoting mental health and problem-solving skills in the community as well as in schools; educational programmes for professionals such as General Practitioners to enhance their ability to identify, treat and manage depressed and potentially suicidal patients; programmes that integrate and enhance community and primary care psychotherapeutic and pharmacotherapeutic treatments for mood disorders and other mental illnesses linked with thoughts of suicide.

Mr Anderton said that Dr Collings' report also indicates that targeting of groups known to be at-risk should occur in the context of approaches to social and economic policy development that take into account the possible effects on the mental health of vulnerable people.

The second report released today, Suicide Prevention - A review of evidence of risk and protective factors, and points of effective intervention, was also prepared for the Ministry of Health. The author of the second report is Associate Professor Annette Beautrais from the Canterbury Suicide Project at the Christchurch School of Medicine.

The Beautrais report concludes that while a wide range of personal, social, family and related factors contribute to the risks of suicidal behaviour, by far the largest factor was related to mental health.

Beautrais states the clear implication of this is that the major focus of suicide prevention efforts should be directed at minimising rates of psychiatric disorders and addressing the risk factors that lead to these disorders.

Mr Anderton said that Dr Beatrais's report clearly highlights that access to psychiatric treatment and services is necessary for effective suicide prevention.

The Collings and Beautrais reports were commissioned by the Ministry of Health in order to help inform its development of the draft New Zealand Suicide Prevention Strategy that were released on April 27. The draft - addressing the issue of suicide prevention across the whole age spectrum - is currently undergoing a six-week period of public consultation. Both reports can be downloaded from the Ministry of Health website along with more detailed information about the Government's suicide prevention initiatives:

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