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Concern about lack of suicide counselling in Otaki and Porirua

Repoert from RNZ
A mental health expert is calling health authorities’ response woeful as Porirua and Ōtaki grapple with a spate of sudden deaths.

The Kapiti Coast town has had four such deaths since mid-September, and Porirua East has had six since June.

Suicide Prevention Australia and National Māori Authority chairperson Matthew Tukaki says Ōtaki may well be bewildered at the lack of response to its crisis, but he is not because he has seen it all before.

“No, I’m not surprised, I’m not bewildered – my heart sinks for them,” Mr Tukaki said. “I’ve had conversations with members of the Porirua community, the Ōtaki community – that community lives that grief every single day and yet no one is there to support them.”

Ōtaki College principal Andy Fraser would settle right now just for some back-up for his school’s only counsellor, who’s battling to identify any pupils who might be at risk.

Mr Fraser said MidCentral DHB apologised on Friday for its lack of response. “What we need is a follow-up on the apology the DHB have made to us,” he said. “We’ve asked for a minimum of one day a week from a counsellor to support our current counsellor who’s under immense pressure.”

The school was now looking to pay for that themselves though they could not afford it, he said.

The first death, of a 15-year-old college boy, occurred in late September, but the boy’s family had yet to hear from the mental health professionals at the DHB.

“Seven weeks on and not having anyone check on their support from a medical or trauma perspective is just not good enough. This is a big thing we’re facing here – we’re facing it here, we’re facing it in other communities around the country.”

The DHB was also missing in action after a girl student died a year ago, Mr Fraser said.

Local consultant Adrian Gregory will this week chair the first meeting of a new advisory group on health and well-being in the town of 6000.

“I just can’t express how deeply this is felt by myself and my colleagues and the rest of the community,” he said, adding for local parents that “we all want to support you in some sort of way. We will find a way of doing that very quickly indeed”.

Mr Gregory and Mr Fraser both pointed to Ōtaki’s urgent need for out-of-hours local mental health services, because there was no public transport service to get to services in Levin or Palmerston North during work hours, and families in crisis did not want to go outside the town for help anyway.

“Really the question of why aren’t they [services] there now is a question for MidCentral [DHB], and I know that’s been asked internally,” Mr Gregory said.

Mr Tukaki said six years ago Australia was where New Zealand is at now, but a 2012 Senate inquiry into suicide began transforming its prevention services.

It now had an evaluation hub to properly check if programmes worked; it had a research fund of $26 million a year; it had a 1500-strong network of support people who had themselves been through the trauma.

Meanwhile, New Zealand had endless consultations – the current mental health inquiry was in danger of being just another of these – led by an ineffectual Health Ministry while the DHBs contracted out the services, and out of their responsibilities, he said.

“There are things going on … in some of these regions and some of these communities that would very much leave the average person to think, how could that occur in a well-developed first-world nation?”

Suicide prevention, training, research and programme evaluation were all very poor or virtually non-existent, Mr Tukaki said. The upshot, however, was that measures could have been taken years ago to improve them.

There was one area of progress: “We are making it okay for people to reach out for help in times of need. The problem is what we’re doing is creating an insatiable demand for services that don’t exist in number.

“So we turn up in these communities and we appear to be offering help, we appear to be offering change, we appear to be listening, and then everyone from the ministry, they all walk away.”

The MidCentral DHB has been approached for comment.
Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)
Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz
What’s Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children’s helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)
Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)
Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254
Healthline: 0800 611 116
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

News from CCDHB – November 2
Capital & Coast DHB and Regional Public Health are satisfied with our response to the recent tragic suicides in Porirua. We are working to ensure members of the community, who may be at risk, are well-supported.

Suicide has a significant and tragic impact on the community, and providing support is a top priority. We are committed to working with the community to look at service responses and supports for people at risk in our community. Anyone in need of support should contact our crisis mental health contact centre Te Haika on 0800 745 477. We have been working very closely with the community and providers since May this year in response to each individual suspected suicide. Part of this work has involved the identification of any other at-risk youths, and creating strategies to reduce the risk of further suicides occurring.

Late September, after a period of ongoing support and collaboration, it was declared that a cluster had developed due to the number of suicides, geographical location, and relationship to each other.

At this point, Clinical Advisory Services Aotearoa (CASA) the Ministry of Health’s response service, was activated to provide further support to our services through an urgent postvention response.

As part of this response, Capital & Coast DHB provided funding to a local NGO for the employment of two full-time mental health clinicians, who provide support, guidance and counselling to students across four local high schools.

Throughout this process, we have been involved in in-depth discussions with local schools and providers, to plan an approach to best support the Porirua community, recognising the number of deaths and the loss felt in this community.

There are a number of non-government agencies at work in the area and we are developing a coalition to bring the different teams together who may be working with people affected by this cluster of suicides.

While suicide is complex, each and every death is a potentially-preventable tragedy. Capital & Coast DHB is working on an updated approach to suicide prevention which will draw on best practice, expertise and understanding of preventing suicide.

Although it can be difficult, it’s important that we can all have safe and open conversations about mental health and suicide. The Mental Health Foundation has a range of resources available to support conversations with youth and promote wellbeing.

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