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Suicide data shows fall, but youth and Māori remain concern

Hon Peter Dunne
Associate Minister of Health

3 September 2012

Suicide data shows fall, but youth, Māori remain concern

Provisional suicide statistics released by Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean for the year ending 30 June 2012 show an overall fall in the number of deaths, but demonstrate the need to keep focusing on Māori and youth suicide prevention, Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said today.

“What these figures confirm is there are no quick or easy fixes. Suicide is as complex as it is tragic, and each death comes from many factors,” he said.

“It is also important to remember these are provisional figures. Past experience shows the finalised figures will be lower as some deaths will be found not to be suicides.

“The figures’ true value is in giving an early indication, but I am concerned that the Chief Coroner’s and the Ministry’s figures could be misunderstood or misinterpreted , therefore I have told Health officials to work closely with the Chief Coroner towards synchronising timeframes for such statistics so that we can compare ‘apples with apples’.

“It is important that we have access to good, timely data but we also want it to be clear and not easily confused,” Mr Dunne said.

He said the figures reinforced the need to “keep the red flags in place” on youth and Māori suicide, in particular.

He said the rises in both in the past 12 months could be tied to specific clusters.

“That is a known phenomenon. We have put immediate team resources into a number of situations that have occurred and we need to continue to do so and to continue to develop the thinking and the best practice response in these situations,” he said.

“It only takes a couple of such situations to send the figures up.

“We have good work going on already, and we need to keep the focus on it.

“The Ministry of Health funds the Kia Piki te Ora National Suicide Prevention Programme, to promote the health and wellbeing of Maori and contribute to the reduction of suicides. As a large proportion of suicides by Maori are by young people, the service includes a focus on youth, within a family and community context.

“Whanau Ora providers will soon begin working with 40 Maori and Pacific 12–19 year olds and their whanau/aiga over two years, to support families to protect and improve the mental health of their young people,” Mr Dunne said.

He said the risk and protective factors for suicide are broad-ranging, and involve individual, family, community and society.

“A lot of these factors are addressed by a wide range of government initiatives. In April this year, a series of initiatives were announced as part of the Prime Minister’s Youth Mental Health Project.

“This includes mental wellbeing initiatives in schools, online, in families and communities and in the health system.

“New funding of $8 million was allocated in Budget 2012 to strengthen communities prevent suicide,” Mr Dunne said.

Other initiatives to enhance communities and strengthen families include the education sector's Positive Behaviour for Learning, Better Public Service Results for New Zealanders, the upcoming White Paper on Vulnerable Children and the recently announced Government initiatives to fight cyber-bullying.

Mr Dunne said he was also concerned by the small increase in Canterbury suicide figures which were clearly in the context of two years of earthquake trauma.

“We had the early rallying around of the community and the fall in numbers, but it was always going to be this time that would see some people not coping with the huge stresses, and we need to keep doing everything we can to keep support around those who are particularly stressed and vulnerable,” he said.

“We must redouble our efforts and our commitment to fighting the tragedy that is suicide. It cannot just be fixed by government alone. We need everyone on board, and we need individuals, families and communities aware and willing to step in,” he said.

Mr Dunne said the Chief Coroner’s and the Ministry’s figures would inform the current development of a new National Suicide Prevention Action Plan due to be released early next year.

ENDS

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