Unseemly stoush over youth suicide

Of all things youth suicide is one of the worst issues to become a victim of unseemly political niggling, but that is what has happened between the new Minister of Health David Clark and the previous Minister, Jonathan Coleman.

Coleman had problems with diplomacy and public relations, but Clark seems to have not graduated fully from being in opposition yet.

NZH:  New Health Minister David Clark on youth suicide: We have a problem and we need to talk about it

Labour campaigned on mental health and pledged the return of the mental health commissioner and an inquiry into mental health.

Terms of reference and other details around the inquiry were yet to be settled, Clark said, but forecast it as wide ranging, considering issues of colonisation and poverty.

He spoke of “hardship, or the after-effects of colonisation, or trauma in their own lives or personal histories”.

Past practices of shutting down debate on suicide did not deal with an issue that was persistent, Clark said.

“I think we need a public conversation about this. We can’t avoid it as a country. We have a problem and we need to talk about it.”

But he also challenged media to tell stories of survival and recovery, and not to dwell only of those who had taken their lives.

Not talking about it has failed so talking about it makes sense – as long as it is sensible talk. However continuing a political slanging match is not a good place to start.

New Health Minister Dr David Clark has leveled a stinging accusation at the previous government and his predecessor Dr Jonathan Coleman, saying funding and priority shortfalls led to more victims of suicide. Clark made the comments during an interview with the Herald as part of its Break The Silence campaign on youth suicide.

The interview charted the new Government’s hopes for greater suicide preventions and a pledge that more would be done to save the lives of those contemplating taking their own.

Our teen suicide statistics are the worst in the developed world and we have the second greatest number of self-inflicted deaths among those aged 25 and under.

The latest suicide statistics had the highest number of suicides ever – 606 people took their lives. And the figures were little better measured against an increasing population showing little movement in the last decade.

It is a problem that has proven difficult to deal with.

Clark was critical of Coleman and the previous government during the interview, saying officials were “frustrated” over the failure to develop a new Suicide Prevention Strategy after the previous one expired a year ago.

He also criticised Coleman for failing to match an increase in people seeking mental health support with funding.

Political bickering is not a good start to trying better ways of dealing with it.

Asked if that cost lives, Clark initially said it was “very hard on an individual level to say that somebody died because of a lack of funding”.

He then said: “The proposition you’ve put is one that seems reasonable to me, that if you don’t support people, more people are going to take their own lives. I don’t think we can deny that.”

Asked how he felt about there being no current suicide prevention policy, Clark said: “I have expressed publicly frustration with the previous minister. I don’t think there’s much point dwelling on that now. I feel the burden of office that I have picked up. I want to make sure we are in a position as government to find solutions.”

A response: Jonathan Coleman says he’ll hold new health minister to account over suicide target

National’s former health minister Dr Jonathan Coleman says he will be holding the new health minister to account if New Zealand’s suicide rate does not drop.

Coleman declined to be interviewed by the Herald for the story but spoke to Newstalk ZB’s Larry Williams this afternoon.

He told Williams he was surprised Clark was personalising the issue.

“Dr Clark is now signalling he is going to take personal responsibility for the suicide rate from this point on with a zero suicide target … I think he’s making a real rod for his own back,” he said.

“Of course we want to get the suicide rate down … it’s an extremely tragic and difficult area and I’m just very surprised that he’s prepared to talk like this – he’s not doing himself any favours.”

Coleman defended his record on mental health, saying the National government had put an extra $300 million of funding for mental health in the 2017 budget, with $100 million going into spending on portfolios like social welfare, housing and education that impact on mental health.

It’s too soon to know if that extra funding will make any significant difference, and it can easily be argued that it is too little, too late (that can always be argued in politics).

Asked by Williams if any government was accountable for New Zealand’s suicide rate, Coleman said it was “foolish” for the new health minister to say so.

“I genuinely wish Dr Clark well in improving that suicide rate because he’s now set the target, he’s said he will taking personal responsibility and I will be holding him to account over that,” he said.

“I hope he does succeed because this is people’s lives – but clearly if he doesn’t he will be failing to deliver on one of biggest things he campaigned on.”

It’s disappointing to see both Clark and Coleman making this issue political and personal. It is far too serious and important to be overshadowed by bickering.

Health is a very difficult portfolio to manage, because there will always be deaths, and there will always be demands and pressures on funding.

Youth suicide – and don’t forget middle aged suicide which is as big a problem – deserves better from both the Minister and the ex Minister.

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42 Comments

  1. Alloytoo

     /  November 14, 2017

    One of the major problems with the Labour party in opposition was there persistent misrepresentation of issues for political gain, rather than any genuine interest in solving the problem. Suicide which has been pretty constant for quite some time is one such issue.

    Social investment is an excellent toolkit for identifying at risk children based on their measureable circumstances, however there is an emerging issue with social media. It’s a virtual playground which is very hard to police, especially with apps like Instagram which can clean up after a sender, deleting abusive messages. This is the new scarey invisible Heathcare frontier which is emerging and we need more than platitudes from the new government to meet it.

    Reply
    • The cyberbullying is the modern version of the horrible notes that used to be passed to or left for the chosen victim.

      The ability to keep a phone number hidden is a gift to those who get their kicks from no-speak and hang up calls. I have had spates of these, I imagine from some pervert who knows that I now live alone. They don’t know my email or mobile number, but they can still have fun ringing and hearing someone answer.

      Reply
  2. Seabird

     /  November 14, 2017

    It is interesting that Clark is referred to as Dr David Clark. His doctorate is that ” He completed degrees in German and theology before a PhD on the work of German/New Zealand refugee and existentialist thinker Helmut Herbert Hermann Rex.”
    So why are we led to believe, that as Minister of Health he is a medical Dr? I am sure that most people would read it this way. Do labour not have anyone qualified to run this ministry, except for a man who has a degree in German and theology?

    Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  November 14, 2017

      Good call Seabird. Funny how this has escaped the MSM.

      Reply
      • George

         /  November 14, 2017

        Oh it wouldn’t have escaped them. They just work around such things.
        President Trump has a phrase for such media.
        Fake news

        Reply
        • Yes, unless one is actually working in the field in which one has taken a PhD, it can be seen as either snobbish or downright misleading to call oneself Dr..

          Reply
          • Blazer

             /  November 14, 2017

            using the term ‘one’ has connotations of snobbery…imo.

            Reply
            • Kitty Catkin

               /  November 14, 2017

              Yes, to someone like you who doesn’t realise that one starts a sentence with a capital letter, it could well seem to be, but not everyone is like you.

  3. Pickled Possum

     /  November 14, 2017

    Morning Alloytoo, You can keep Instagram photos and texts with an app or IT savy.
    Keeping abusive text and photos for the police is something that children and vulnerable people should be educated about. Nothing is invisible any more on the web.
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.skwirrl.instasaver&hl=en

    Good post pete I am interested in hearing others solutions.
    When I read that article yesterday I had a feeling of 2 boys and I’ve got the biggest balls kinda saga.
    When the youth suicide rate falls in NZ it will have nothing to do with either of those wankers, more to do with the men and women who Really care and are out there in their community saving lives. Voluntarily, I might add.

    Reply
    • Gezza

       /  November 14, 2017

      You’re probably right. Are you keen to see more funding going to voluntary agencies and/or to recruiting volunteers, Possum? And in what way do you think caring volunteers are maybe better than professionals in some cases?

      Reply
      • Gezza

         /  November 14, 2017

        Just as an additional comment, there has to be some strong connection with professional mental health services just because of the need to identify those whose mental health problem is organic, pathological, (e.g. bipolar disorder, schizophphrenia) rather than, say, just psychological in character, such as low self-esteem, abuse etc where caring and mentoring etc can help.

        Reply
        • Pickled Possum

           /  November 14, 2017

          1. Funding allowances for mileage for vols
          2. Caring vs Paid speaks volumes to me.
          3. Strong connection; to a paid service that has Little moni for clients, only workers.
          4. When you work with people with low self esteem abuse etc you quickly work out that it can roll into bi-polar schizophrenia and lead to aged senile dementia. You actually don’t need an alphabet after your name to recognise these things you write of,
          if you have experience in this field. Which alot of new people in the field have SFA

          Reply
          • Pickled Possum

             /  November 14, 2017

            The world and its sickness is run by big Pharma with anti-depressants galore.
            How many if any know of Kanna natures own anti-depressant.
            https://www.kannalife.com/

            Reply
            • Pickled Possum

               /  November 14, 2017

              How is the ‘professional paid sector’ working.
              With youth suicide spiralling out of control.
              Our ‘highest rate in the developed world’ is showing us that what we doing is Not working.

            • Gezza

               /  November 14, 2017

              We need to know more about specific causes than we do.

            • Gezza

               /  November 14, 2017

              And then I agree with Mike King, we need to stop producing wanky reports full of jargon for bureaucrats & get into the schools & start working with the kids. But what do you do if & when the problem is a toxic home environment, when uprooting the kids could be a further stressor?

            • Pickled Possum

               /  November 14, 2017

              But what do you do if & when the problem is a toxic home environment, when uprooting the kids could be a further stressor?

              I have uplifted children from ‘toxic’ homes on occasion, in my professional capacity. Depression in a 10-12 year old is very clear to see and can lead to attempted suicide.
              I know of many aged family members that have taken responsibility of moko .. to give them stability and care while their parents sort their shit out. To save the one they see as vulnerable.
              Mike King is just one man trying to do the work of thousands of paid professionals. I tautoko his work immensely. He is much loved by children up here. Schools would be doing their best societal duty to have him visit and speak to their children.

              I also am aware of the number of suicides in Te Ao Maori

              ‘Age structure of Maori suicide is different from non-Maori in that the age of peak incidence for Maori is more broadly based at 15-44 years of age than the 15-24 age of peak incidence for the non-Maori population’

              http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/11709877

            • Nature’s own cures are not infallible.

              Nor are volunteers in any field who can do more harm than good because they lack knowledge.

            • Pickled Possum

               /  November 14, 2017

              Kitty kat, people who have No knowledge will not apply their skills in vain to that which they have NO idea about.
              Natures cures are not costly like big pharma.
              who said they were infallible.
              Volunteer st john people go thru a very comphrehensive programme before they can even get in the ambulance . I am sure they have knowledge a plenty.
              Do You do any volunteer work?
              And of course the paid professionals are what? Not infallible.
              Do you have any volunteer friends you can ask.

  4. robertguyton

     /  November 14, 2017

    Mike King slated National over their behaviour. Coleman deserves criticism, certainly, as does the National Party. We shall see if Clark does better. I’m betting he will.

    Reply
  5. Pickled Possum

     /  November 14, 2017

    Gez Coffee Sandwich Read … then back to mahi

    Males aged 85+ have the highest suicides in nz. Illness
    From 1996-2013 Maori males suicide were the highest
    If NZ is so well and doing so well, why do so many end their lives.

    http://m.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/snapshots-of-nz/nz-social-indicators/Home/Health/suicide.aspx#anchor5

    Reply
    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  November 14, 2017

      Why do you think, Possum?

      Reply
    • Pickled Possum

       /  November 14, 2017

      Hi Al I couldn’t make a sweeping 1 answer fits All.
      I would hazard a guess of what I have seen and heard about.
      The 85+ are so full of mental physical spiritual pain, that gets worse.
      which after a while brings depression, then a mad slide into sleeping pills anti-depressant anti inflammatory, can’t eat can’t shit and you still got bad pain.That maybe be 1 of the reasons 85+ have a high rate of suicide. As well as the debilitating loss of your partner child mother father or other close loved one..
      The Maori men scenario is one of low self esteem brought about by … well we can only speculate on that one. Low self esteem leads to depression very quickly when little troubles first appear. Along with all the added extras of the Western world like drugs sex and rocknroll.
      Maori men traditional only go to anger management etc when the Judge says “If you don’t go, then Jail time.
      I do know, the men I know, that work only have ‘temporary depression,’ as working gives them great self esteem to say what they have to say and do what is right. TBC

      Reply
      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  November 14, 2017

        Yes, that makes a lot of sense, Possum. There’s a whole lot of stuff that comes with a job – company, responsibility, accomplishment, power, new relationships, physical and mental stimulation and learning. Even retirement is not very healthy, unemployment before that much less.

        How can lost Maori men recover a role in this world?

        Reply
  6. Older people seem to be overlooked when it comes to concern about suicide and suicide attempts.

    The obvious scars on the wrists are a bit of a hint that there’s something wrong there.You’d be surprised at how many there are among older people who’ve lost a wife or husband.

    Reply
    • Pickled Possum

       /  November 14, 2017

      I had a friend, elderly chap who lost his wife of 50years. When she died he said it was as if some one cut off his arm and he was slowly bleeding to death. After trying to find the message in a bottle of rum, he gave up the ghost.

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  November 14, 2017

        Passive suicide ?

        I wonder how many people gave him any support and how many left him to get on with it as best he could.

        Reply
        • Pickled Possum

           /  November 14, 2017

          Kitty he had oddles of love and support, but he didn’t want any one to tell him what to do. “It’s my life. I’ll live it as I see fit”.
          He was a very intelligent man an engineer of high standing.
          He missed his wife so much he just couldn’t bear it.
          He is dead now, it took 3 years for his body to go but in reality his will to live with out her, had taken him when she died. so sad. He was the best vegy grower.
          He was an honest man and a good friend.

          Reply
          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  November 14, 2017

            Sad to hear, Possum. I understand the loss but I don’t understand abandoning the future possibilities. I’m not one to spend too much time looking backwards.

            Reply
          • patupaiarehe

             /  November 14, 2017

            He is dead now, it took 3 years for his body to go but in reality his will to live with out her, had taken him when she died. so sad.

            I get that completely Possum. I’d be lost, without my ‘ataahua wahine’…

            Reply
            • patupaiarehe

               /  November 14, 2017

              Reading some of the above comments, reminds me of my youth. People can’t understand it, unless they have been thru’ it. I was very fortunate do have been ‘dragged out of my funk’, by a good woman, who made me her ‘willing victim’… 😀
              Twenty years later, we are still ‘reluctantly married’ (according to her), and we both love this song..,

              Sometimes I hate every single stupid word you say
              Sometimes I wanna slap you in your whole face
              There’s no one quite like you
              You push all my buttons down
              I know life would suck without you

              At the same time, I wanna hug you
              I wanna wrap my hands around your neck
              You’re an asshole but I love you
              And you make me so mad I ask myself
              Why I’m still here, or where could I go
              You’re the only love I’ve ever known
              But I hate you, I really hate you,
              So much, I think it must be

              True love, true love
              It must be true love
              Nothing else can break my heart like
              True love, true love,
              It must be true love
              No one else can break my heart like you

              Just once try to wrap your little brain around my feelings
              Just once please try not to be so mean
              Repeat after me now R-O-M-A-N-C-E-E-E
              Come on I’ll say it slowly (Romance)
              You can do it baby

              At the same time, I wanna hug you
              I wanna wrap my hands around your neck
              You’re an asshole but I love you
              And you make me so mad I ask myself
              Why I’m still here, or where could I go
              You’re the only love I’ve ever known
              But I hate you, I really hate you,
              So much, I think it must be

              True love, true love
              It must be true love
              Nothing else can break my heart like
              True love, true love,
              It must be true love
              And no one else can break my heart like you

              (I love you, I think it must be love, I love you)

              Why do you rub me up the wrong way?
              Why do you say the things that you say?
              Sometimes I wonder how we ever came to be
              But without you I’m incomplete

              I think it must be
              True love, true love
              It must be true love
              Nothing else can break my heart like
              True love, true love,
              It must be true love
              And no one else can break my heart like you (like you)
              No one else can break my heart like you (like you)
              No one else can break my heart like you

          • Kitty Catkin

             /  November 15, 2017

            Love and support doesn’t mean telling someone what to do, or shouldn’t.

            Reply
    • Gezza

       /  November 14, 2017

      No, I wouldn’t be surprised. I know two.

      Reply
      • Those are the ones you know of. People don’t broadcast that sort of thing. I believe that the scarred wrist is reasonably-well, not common, but more common than people realise.

        It’s as if older people don’t matter so much when it comes to this sort of thing.

        Reply
  7. patupaiarehe

     /  November 14, 2017

    As someone who is ‘qualified’ to speak on this matter, my humble opinion is that they are a pair of fuckwits who know nothing. Mr Coleman happily ‘held the party line’, and supported the exponential increases in excise tax, making the one ‘crutch’ that many ‘mentally unwell’ people rely on even less affordable, thereby introducing even more stress into their lives… Mike King has my utmost respect for telling the Govt to GFY, and continuing to do what he does, which actually does make a difference to our youth. When he spoke at my teenaged sons’ school, they both came home and talked to me about what he said. Endless Govt inquiries won’t make a shit of a difference to our disgraceful youth suicide rate. Listening to our youth will, but it can be difficult to get them to talk. People like Mike help them to talk…

    Reply
    • Anyone who uses tobacco as acrutch is using a very frail one. People who don’t smoke have mental illnesses. I can’t see how smoking benefits a mentally ill person, or benefits anyone except the tobacco company. Smoking is paying someone good money to give you emphysema, lung cancer, heart disease and other diseases. Smoking can’t do anything for a mental illness.

      Reply
      • Pickled Possum

         /  November 14, 2017

        Diversion Miss
        When you are born and out-side the womb you can’t get air and you stress.
        You open your mouth and breath air.
        The next time you become stressed is when you are hungry
        you open your mouth and a teat is put in it.
        We humans are programmed to stick things in our mouths, ie food cigarettes, alcohol fizzy drink, comfort food, to relieve stress, we now know stress leads us to depression.
        Not all but the vulnerable are every where.
        Its that, that we have to change. Not come from the out-side like a bull dozer.
        telling people to give up smoking because all of those reasons you state, very good sensible ones I agree.

        Reply
        • patupaiarehe

           /  November 14, 2017

          Tautoko, my marsupial friend. I was about to relate similar thoughts to our ‘feline friend’, but you have done so already… 🙂

          Reply
        • Kitty Catkin

           /  November 15, 2017

          The flaw in that argument is that not everyone does and that those things can’t relieve stress or depression.

          In at least one part of Australia, if smokers won’t stop smoking they can be denied surgery and treatment when smoking will make these useless.

          Reply

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