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Anderton: 'All-Ages' Suicide Prevention Strategy

New Zealand 'All-Ages' Suicide Prevention Strategy

We have to work at many levels and across many sectors


Launch of the New Zealand 'All-Ages' Suicide Prevention Strategy, Grand Hall, Parliament Buildings, Wellington

We are here formally to launch the New Zealand Suicide Prevention Strategy 2006-2016. We are here in practice because suicide is not a subject we can be complacent about.

Five hundred lives a year - nearly ten a weekend - in New Zealand, through suicide. This tragedy reaps a devastating harvest among families and loved ones. It's a tragedy for our community, as well as personally, for the lives it touches. So we are here because we know we can do more to prevent suicide. We can make a difference.

In government, in health care organisations, in the community, in schools, in the justice system, in the media and in community agencies we can make a difference. And because we can make a difference, we have a responsibility to do so. But we also know it's not easy to make a difference.

The causes of suicide are complex. Prevention is complex as well. Reducing the number of deaths by suicide takes a comprehensive approach. We have to work at many levels and across many sectors.

So the Strategy we are here to launch uses a collaborative approach. It aims to use the many caring arms available to cradle our community. The Strategy's broad focus is unique. It was developed by an inter-agency group comprising officials from a number of government agencies. The Ministerial Committee on Suicide Prevention gave it support and over saw its development.

Many submissions from the public helped to inform its development. Many people came to meetings around New Zealand to discuss the draft, which was released in May last year. Invaluable assistance came from the Suicide Prevention External Advisory Group. I would like to take the opportunity to acknowledge and thank these busy people who gave their time and expertise to this document.

And I want to thank everyone who has contributed along the way. The resulting Strategy sets out a high-level policy framework to guide suicide prevention initiatives. This is a high-quality document. Its already received high praise from my Ministerial colleagues.

I'm sure it will be welcomed by those working in the sector. We have a lot of work to do; but we have some progress to build on too. We can be thankful that the rates of suicide are dropping and have been since the late 1990s. But our suicide rates are high.

In 2003, the last year for which we have reliable figures, New Zealand's suicide rate across all ages was the sixth highest among selected OECD countries for males, and the fourth highest for females. This is a sobering record.

We have made progress since the then government released the New Zealand Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy in 1998. Suicide rates peaked that year and have dropped by fifteen percent since then (on the most recent 2003 figures). Since the 1998 strategy was released, we have seen many improvements in the way suicide prevention initiatives have been delivered.

Services have been made more responsive and new 'best practice' guidelines and information resources have been made available. Community understanding about suicidal behaviour has grown. And the body of research from both New Zealand and internationally has grown significantly.

Since 1998, the main focus has been on youth suicide. That's because young people continue to be overrepresented in suicide statistics and have a high rate of suicide internationally. At the same time, eighty percent of New Zealanders who died by suicide in 2003 were, in fact, aged 25 years or older. Suicidal behaviour is therefore clearly a youth issue; and it is also clearly an issue for all ages.

So this Strategy adopts a new emphasis. The new Strategy extends New Zealand's youth suicide prevention approach into suicidal behaviour across all age groups. With this document we will not only have a strategy for preventing suicide. We will have a framework to identify the work we need to do to reduce both suicide and attempted suicide.

Action plans will be developed to implement the strategy. The action plans will set out what can be achieved and timeframes for getting things done. And they will identify the organisations responsible. The action plans will be broken up into two separate five-year phases.

The Ministry of Health has set up a Taskforce to oversee the development of the first action plan for release next year. A defining feature of the actions we take is that they will be evidence-based. This issue came through strongly when the Strategy was being developed. I always say it's best to let the facts get in the way of the story. But in the suicide area that has been easier to say than do.
Until recently, the evidence available for what works in relation to suicide prevention has been limited. It's been mainly focused on clinical interventions at an individual level. While we know that social and economic factors affect mental well-being, the links between these factors and suicidal behaviour is less well known.

The Ministry of Health commissioned a review and reports from the University of Otago looking at these factors. This research has helped inform the Strategy. We need to continue to build the base of facts around suicide prevention.

I acknowledge the researchers who are contributing to our growing understanding. Associate Professor Annette Beautrais, who was a member of the external advisory group, will talk about the research in relation to informing the Strategy shortly. To help build up the body of knowledge we have I am today announcing the establishment of the Suicide Research Network of New Zealand.

The Network consists of a group of eminent researchers. This group will help provide an evidence-based perspective on suicide prevention policy. This Network will ensure that New Zealand is at the cutting edge of suicide prevention initiatives.

The Network has already provided me and the Ministry of Health with a very useful review of successful suicide prevention approaches. It will be used when developing the first five-year Action Plan to guide implementation of the Strategy.

When it comes to evidence-based policy, it's worth mentioning the issue of reporting around suicide. The topic has had a public airing and there is little new to add. It arose because the new Coroners Bill, which aims at a more professional coronial system, is currently before Parliament.

The Select Committee, which scrutinised the issue looked at the evidence and found the way suicide is reported can lead, in a significant number of cases, to "copy cat suicides".

It would be irresponsible to dismiss this evidence. Some dispute this research but where lives are at stake I strongly believe the responsible thing to do is to err on the side of caution and accuracy.

In making that point I do not believe there is - or should be - a 'tyranny of silence' around suicide reporting. Media can report and do report on suicide.
I hope for example, that this Strategy will be widely reported. The legislative restrictions are only around reporting the details, and the method of, individual suicides, without the authority of the coroner.

I know there are many media who exercise restraint and care in these sensitive issues. I also know there are outlets capable of being irresponsible and sometimes callously indifferent.
The debate might be improved if there was more acknowledgment of that.
Leaders in the media industry are already working on a new protocol to guide them on this issue.

The idea is that if suicide is to be reported, then in must be done without putting vulnerable people at more risk. I welcome that approach. But this is ground that has been covered before.

Today we are releasing a new Strategy that will take our suicide prevention work forward. It builds on the good work that is already happening and the improvements that have been made in recent years. Lives are being saved, and we will save more.

The commitment we are making is that the lives we save are unmistakably worth the effort we make. The difference we can make is all the difference in the world to the families and individuals affected.

The commitment we are making is that we care enough to accept our responsibility to make a difference.

I acknowledge and thank everyone who is working on the ground:
...Everyone who is ensuring communities stay well and healthy,
...Everyone who assists families and friends bereaved by a suicide,
...Everyone who works with those who attempted suicide to prevent them from trying again.

We are grateful for your work. Every single suicide is one suicide too many!

This Strategy will set in place a framework and a vision to support the critical work you are doing in order to increase our success in future.

My thanks for the work you have done and very best wishes for the challenges, which lie ahead. In would like to ask my colleague Mita Ririnui to talk now about the important issues relating to Maori and suicide prevention.


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