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Warning as health/social policy ignores Asian mental health

The Suicide Mortality Review Committee says health and social policy should not ignore Asian mental health.

The Suicide Mortality Review Committee reviews suicide deaths and advises the Health Quality & Safety Commission on how to reduce the number of these deaths in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Its latest report, released today, focuses on understanding deaths by suicide in the Asian population of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Professor Rob Kydd, chair of the committee, says a proactive approach is required now to address suicide in this diverse and growing population group before rates increase.

‘Suicide rates for Asian people have fluctuated but appear to be increasing. With the projected growth in the Asian population, we are concerned the rate may rise,’ he says.

The Asian population in New Zealand is the third largest behind European and Māori, and is projected to surpass Māori and Pacific population groups by 2038.

Death by suicide in the Asian population is relatively low. However, the committee says these deaths are avoidable and create unnecessary suffering for those bereaved by suicide.

‘With culturally and linguistically diverse groups challenging our mental health system there is a need for health services to be culturally appropriate.

‘While the Government has a responsibility to focus on the tangata whenua of Aotearoa, and support Pacific populations, policies for Asian and refugee communities are under-developed.’

The report says racism and discrimination are leading factors contributing to suicide.

‘Tackling racism in all forms, along with social disadvantage, isolation and exclusion, will have a large impact on suicide rates.’

Shame and stigma around mental illness is also an issue for Asian populations.

‘Mental distress and suicide affecting Asian people in this country has been a relatively hidden issue. To many Asian people, mental health issues and suicide are stigmatising and shaming, creating a barrier to seeking help.

‘The biggest inequity is evident in Māori suicide rates, and the committee is looking into the factors behind suicide for rangatahi (youth) and wahine and kōtiro (women and girls).

‘However, the Asian population is growing in New Zealand and the lack of suicide prevention strategies for Asian people living in here is a concern,’ he says.

The committee acknowledges those who died by suicide and recognises the ongoing pain and hurt of family and whānau bereaved by suicide.

‘It is our collective responsibility, across all social, justice, and health agencies, to act now on what we know. We cannot wait any longer.’

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