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Launch of Suicide Prevention Action Plan

17 March 2008 Speech

Launch of Suicide Prevention Action Plan

Five hundred lives a year - nearly ten a week - end in New Zealand through suicide. As many as are killed on our roads each year!

Many have their stories to tell about that toll.

Many of us know the trauma and the loss.

And all of us have a choice as a result: We can simply talk about the issue, or we can do something about it.

This plan is about doing something about it.

It's about being strong enough to care.

Strong enough to care for individuals and strong enough to care for families and communities affected by suicide.

We have at this launch two documents that go together.

One is the Summary for Action. It outlines what we are going to do.
It says who will do it. And it says when it will be done by.

The other document is The Evidence for Action.

It discusses the evidence for the work we're going to do.

So why are these important?

First, because a plan with specified action, and specific responsibility and timelines holds people accountable.

It is a promise. It means someone can be made responsible and accountable.
The Summary for Action means that instead of sitting around wringing our hands and wishing something were done, instead we know who is responsible for acting.

We can ask some serious questions if they don't and praise them when they do.

We also know that in this field when you press for action, there can be a flurry of action that is ineffective even if it is well-meaning.

Even worse, some interventions sometimes make the problem worse, with tragic consequences.

So the second reason these documents are important is that they are based on meaningful evidence.

We don't know everything about how to prevent suicide, but we know enough to make a difference.

For example - and it's just one example from many I could give - when we look at the facts they tell us the risk of suicide is increased twenty-fold for those with major depression.

And the facts tell us most New Zealanders know depression is common. Most can name at least one symptom. And ninety-nine percent say they're willing to be supportive of someone with depression.

But while we say we're willing to pitch in and lend a hand, most people with depression don't look for help because of the stigma.

Well we can do something about that and we can make a difference as a result.

We ran the hugely successful John Kirwan ads on tv that encouraged people who are depressed to seek help.

And when we found that the message needed to be strengthened for young people, we launched the Lowdown website. It's a place on the Net where kids can go and find out about how to get help. And because it's fresh and funky enough and it uses role models young New Zealanders can identify with, it's making a difference too.

So we can make a difference and today we are going to hear about a few more interventions that make a difference because we have the strength to care.

We'll hear about a programme in schools to promote mental health.
It shows us how important it is, early on, to create healthy and supportive environments for our young people.
We will hear about a programme where mental health professionals work with social workers to address suicide risk for children and young people in Child Youth and Family care.

We'll hear about a programme that deals with care for people who have made suicide attempts and people who need our help.

It was only a few years ago that I used to criticise the way the health system failed to respond to high risk or actual suicide attempts.

When someone made a suicide attempt, their stomach would be pumped or their wounds patched up and they were sent home. But the bit that was broken wasn't even treated at all. Families in crisis didn't know where to go for help.

We're getting on with fixing that.

Of course there are many more activities all over New Zealand that also contribute to suicide prevention.

The Action Plan describes many of these current initiatives.

And more importantly than what we already do, the Action Plan sets priorities for what we will do in future.

Strategies and action plans are never enough.

The real difference is made by the combined efforts and expertise of all of you here today.

And, partly because there are so many suicide prevention initiatives across different government and non-government agencies, they need to be well-co-ordinated.

The Ministry of Health is co-ordinating the Strategy and the Action Plan.
An Inter-Agency Committee is made up of officials from thirteen agencies.

The Ministerial Committee on Suicide Prevention, which I chair, provides oversight.

The government is getting behind the work that needs to be done to prevent suicide.

In last year's budget we put aside over $23 million over four years for this task.

We're getting runs on the board. Suicide rates look like they are down twenty percent since the late nineties.

Yet, there is a very long way to go, and progress is going to be hard and patchy.

We can make a difference if we are strong enough to create a society where New Zealanders feel valued and nurtured.

We can make a difference if we are strong enough to create a New Zealand that values lives, and where New Zealanders are supported in the rough seas and strengthened in the calm.

I believe this Action Plan will help us work towards this vision.

And I believe it will save lives.

It is the culmination of a huge amount of work by many people who care.
People who are passionately committed to suicide prevention: researchers, clinicians, people from community groups, district health boards, consumers, and government officials.

I want to thank you for your work, advice and support.

And I want to thank you most of all for caring.

Every suicide is a tragedy, and I acknowledge the distress and hurt of those who lose their loved ones.

We cannot stand by and fail to act when we know we can do more to care.
I'm proud to have supported suicide prevention efforts, like the New Zealand Suicide Prevention Strategy, which I launched in 2006.

Back then I said I looked forward to today, when this Action Plan was ready for release.

A strategy without implementation is no more than a rainbow - pretty to look at, but changing nothing.

So I am pleased to launch this very comprehensive Action Plan.

And I look forward to its effective implementation.


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