Group to tackle rising death rate

By Mike Dinsdale

An interagency group has been set up to tackle Northland's shocking suspected suicide rates with a record number of cases reported last year.

Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean has released statistics for 2012, which show 39 suspected suicides in Northland.

That was the highest number in at least five years, with 22 recorded in the 2010/11 year, 20 in 2009/10, 19 in 2008/09 and 22 in 2007/08. The Northland District Health Board recorded 35 suspected suicides for the year.

However, the coroner's figures cover a larger area than the DHB.

Of the 39 suspected cases before the coroner, three involved youngsters aged 10-15; 12 were 15-19 and five 20-24. Nineteen of the suspected cases were Maori and 27 involved males.

"The annual number of suicides has remained relatively constant, but our latest figures show some concerning trends," Judge MacLean said when releasing provisional Northland figures late last year.

"Significant is the jump in teenage suicide numbers, and the continued rise of Maori suicides, in particular young Maori.

I continue to believe we need to gently bring the issue of suicide from out of the shadows."

"Coroners have a responsibility to encourage the informed public discussion about how best to reduce the rate of suicide."

An interagency social well-being governance group has been established to more effectively respond to the challenges facing vulnerable children, youth and families in Northland.

Members of the governance group include the Northland District Health Board chief executive, Northland police district commander, Te Waka o Taonui representative, Ministry of Social Development regional commissioner, Tai Tokerau regional director of Child, Youth and Family, Northern Regional Manager Family and Community Services, Ministry of Education regional operations manager and Te Puni Kokiri regional director.

"Our first priority has been working with local communities and implementing postvention strategies to assist those who have been bereaved by a suicide to cope with what has happened," health board chief executive and group co-chairman Nick Chamberlain said. "The focus is on building resilience, reducing risk, dealing with shock and grief, and offering counselling if it is needed."

Key in Northland was the establishment of the Fusion Centre to co-ordinate important information held separately by government agencies relating to vulnerable and at-risk children, youth and families.

This information was used to mobilise crisis intervention at a local level in the first instance but also to inform the development of prevention strategies that would enhance the social wellbeing of Northlanders as approved by the Governance Group.

"Effectively the Fusion Centre is our finger on the pulse, Northland police District Commander Russell Le Prou said.

"Individually we gather valuable information that if shared prepares us better to help those in need and identifies where high risk exists so we can act quickly and be better informed on how we can help."

Suicide-response teams are being set up in each Northland district to work in collaboration with each other and whanau and local communities to reduce the suicide risk and other social wellbeing issues.

- Northern Advocate

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