Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is an APNZ news reporter based in Wellington.

Suicide prevention plan 'critically important' - PM

Prime Minister John Key says pouring resources into a $25 million suicide action plan is "critically important" to tackling New Zealand's high youth suicide rate.

The Government's new national suicide prevention plan, announced today, contains a raft of new initiatives, including support for small communities which lose major industries and more support for families of suicide victims.

It aims to reduce the national average of 500 suicides each year, including about 100 youth suicides.

Mr Key said the number of young people who took their own lives was "far too high - I mean, any number above zero is too high".

He said the issue predominantly affected boys as well as Maori and Pasifika youths.

"So it's critically important that we pour more resources in that area," he said.

"There's been some very tragic examples of copycat suicides. There's been quite big groupings in certain areas, and there are a lot of different complicating factors in this area.

"So all I can say is that we care passionately about wanting to make sure that we protect youngsters. We know they're vulnerable."

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said the action plan would focus on strengthening or expanding existing programmes, as well as trialling new initiatives.

Among the new measures is a pilot programme to support small communities which lose a major industry.

Mr Dunne said unemployment was a known risk factor for suicide, especially among youths and young Maori men, and single-industry or -employer communities were particularly vulnerable if that employer or industry failed.

The trial would involve the Ministry of Social Development partnering with a small number of local communities to support them before and after the loss of a major employer or industry.

District Health Boards (DHBs) would also be given support for suicide prevention through the development of a toolkit which would focus on managing suicide clusters.

The action plan also includes more support for New Zealanders who lose a loved one to suicide.

Mr Dunne said an initial response service trialled and delivered by Victim Support in seven DHB areas had been well-received, and the initiative would be made available nationwide from next year at a cost of $200,000 a year.

The growing use of technology will also be tackled through a small social media pilot around suicide prevention, and increasing information on tackling cyber-bullying.

The plan also includes a partnership with the Health Quality and Safety Commission to develop better knowledge of contributing factors and patterns of suicidal behaviour in New Zealand.

Another new initiative is an $8m programme to help Maori and Pasifika communities to develop their their own solutions to suicide.

Mr Dunne said a non-government organisation would be contracted to develop suicide prevention services, which would help to ensure that relevant education and training was available in those communities.

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Judi Clements said she was pleased to see the plan's greater focus on involving whanau, families and communities.

"Supporting them in ways that enable them to make a difference will be critical to the success of this action plan."

Witi Ashby, the Maori development manager for Suicide Prevention Information NZ, said it was an opportunity for Maori to promote leadership on suicide prevention across iwi and hapu.

He was also encouraged by the pilot initiative using social media to support friends and communities after a suicide death.

"We should be excited that our youth are using social media so frequently, because we can connect with them, share support, and develop a better understanding of how they are talking about suicide."

Where to get help

Youth services: (06) 3555 906

Youthline: 0800 376 633

Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (4pm to 6pm weekdays)

Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (noon to midnight)

The Word

Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (24-hour service)

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

CASPER Suicide Prevention

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

- APNZ

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