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Speech: Anderton - World Suicide Prevention Day

10 September 2009 Media Statement

World Suicide Prevention Day

Memorial Service
Edgewater Fan
Tauranga CBD

10 September 2009


We are here to remember those lost to suicide and also to support those who grieve after loss. Every year we lose around five hundred New Zealanders who take their own lives – more than are killed on our roads each year.

Many have our stories about that toll. Many of us know the trauma and the loss.

Each life has incalculable value, and each loss leaves behind grieving loved ones.

Suicide is a tragedy for our community as well as personally for the lives suicide touches.

I welcome the memorial service here, open to all to come along and remember those we have lost.

Its value lies in the visibility of this service and the openness of the support it offers.
It can be hard to help grievers, because suicide is still stigmatised.

As a consequence grievers can withdraw or be slow to look for help and support.
It’s crucial to dealing with loss that mourners simply have permission to grieve.
And its crucial to our community that we raise awareness about prevention programmes and ways we can provide support.

We can make a difference if we are prepared to act.

We’ve seen the difference that visibility makes in examples like the John Kirwan ads on television urging people with depression to get help. Those ads won an Effie award for the most effective non-commercial campaign on television.

Evaluations showed they made a real difference because people with depression are very slow to seek help.

When John Kirwan, a national sporting hero, an All Black, courageously stepped forward with his own story, he helped to break down the stigma associated with depression and mental illness.

Getting help for depressed people makes a difference because someone who is depressed is twenty times more likely to take their own life.

I have been in a call centre when the John Kirwan ad has been screened on television. The switchboards light up as people realise there is something they can do - there is a place they can go to, to get help.

Men, in particular, would ring in response to that ad - and men in New Zealand are traditionally very reticent about expressing their feelings and asking for help.

The more people get treatment for depression, the more suicide rates will come down.

We can make a difference, but I am not claiming it’s simple or straightforward.
Suicide is a ‘mystery’. No single step will be enough.

We have to work on multiple levels through identification, treatment, care, recovery and support. Work is needed by government agencies, as well as organisations in the community and in the health sector.

In government, I launched a New Zealand Suicide Prevention Strategy and Action Plan. It sets out steps to reduce access to the means of suicide and safer ways of publicly portraying suicide as an issue. It sets out a goal of caring for bereaved families.

And the action plan was written in recognition that we don’t know enough and we need more research and information.

One of the goals we set out was to promote mental health and provide services for those who suffer from mental health episodes and for people who are already making suicide attempts.

We used to just patch people up physically - pump out stomachs and repair self-inflicted injuries, and send them home without addressing the cause of the damage.

We can do better than that.

Today we ask agencies and individuals in many sectors to take responsibility for a contribution where they can.

One reason our suicide rates got so high is that there wasn’t enough collaboration on the issue across agencies and institutions.

No agency had the job of bringing together a strategy, there was no collaboration linking up research, policy and practice, and not enough was done to link health and social services to make sure individual patient needs were met.

So, on my watch we invested more than $23 million to support suicide prevention initiatives.

To put that in perspective, when I took on responsibility for suicide prevention, we had a total national prevention budget of $28,000. That was it!
We are doing better today.

For example, ACC pay for research into care after a suicide attempt has been made.
Child Youth and Family have started a project where mental health professionals work with social workers on the risk of suicide among children in welfare care.
The Ministry of Education is putting programmes into schools that provide guidance on suicide prevention.

You need to have a lot of work under way across a broad range of people who can help if you are going to reduce the number of lives lost to suicide.

It takes leadership, and the visibility of services like this one is a reminder of the desperate need for that leadership.

Responding to suicide is about having the strength to care.

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

We should be strong enough to acknowledge that a caring country responds when we see a problem we need to resolve.

We cannot stand by and fail to act when we know we can do more to care.
Every suicide is a tragedy, and I acknowledge the distress and hurt of those who lose their loved ones.

One thing I have learnt is that the advice that “you’ll get over it” is wrong. You will never get “over it”. How could you or why would you?

You can, however, get on with your life and learn to live with what has happened – concentrating on the reasons to celebrate the life your loved one – and when the grief comes, as it inevitably will and does, let it wash over you.

Don’t fight it, but after the wave of grief has receded, you will be able to move on.

I welcome you here today to mourn and remember those we have lost.
And I would like to close by acknowledging and thanking the organisers of today’s event.


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