A leading figure in Auckland's theatrical community has spoken out in support of greater openness in the reporting of suicide, following the death of a family member.

"I think there must be an honest discussion as soon as possible. It's a conspiracy of silence otherwise," Simon Prast, the founder of the Auckland Theatre Company, said last night.

Mr Prast's uncle, 60-year-old Bruce Arnold, died last week.

Close family friend Rikki Noonan said Mr Arnold had struggled for some time with depression. His death occurred about a year after her husband, 48-year-old Michael "Mick" Noonan, took his own life in Te Atarau, the acute mental health unit at Waitakere Hospital.

Mr Prast, an Auckland Council mayoral candidate, said he agreed with the call this month by the chief coroner, Judge Neil MacLean, for the restrictions to be eased on the public reporting of suicide.

Judge MacLean said he wanted to encourage more openness, public debate and media coverage of suicide, because this might reduce the number of deaths. Many people were surprised that more people died by suicide than in road accidents. The road toll was 384 last year; 541 people committed suicide in the year to June.

Mr Prast said he was shocked to learn the number of suicides - "I think that even as we speak there are people out there who must know people who are at risk and feel they have got nowhere to turn or feel helpless. Just keeping quiet about it, to my mind, is not an option."

Mr Prast said he had not had any previous direct experience of suicide and its effects on a family.

"To watch my 68-year-old mother and her 84-year-old sister grieve for their dead brother was a sight I wish on no fellow human being."

Mr Prast and Ms Noonan are concerned about what they say are the failings of mental health services and the cutbacks in Accident Compensation Corporation payments to the families of people who commit suicide.

In an open letter to Prime Minister John Key, Mr Prast says: "As far as I'm concerned, you and your Government have blood on your hands."

Ms Noonan said hospital staff failed to take adequate steps to monitor her husband, even after she told them he was at risk. And despite Mr Arnold having made a previous attempt to take his own life, mental health workers "made little attempt to contact him. Just what do you have to do to get their attention?"

The Waitemata District Health Board declined to comment on either case, citing privacy requirements.

Ms Noonan said that because her husband died before the Government's ACC changes, she received a grant to cover funeral expenses, plus ongoing payments for her daughters.

"There is nothing available to Bruce's family. Pat [his wife] and Bruce were on a benefit. Pat has no means to pay the $5000 required for Bruce's funeral."

The Government did not respond directly to the claims in Mr Prast's letter. ACC Minister Nick Smith's spokesman said: "We acknowledge that suicide is a highly sensitive matter and any suicide is an awful tragedy."

Lifeline: 0800-543-354.

Prime Minister,
On the night of August 18, 2010, my uncle Bruce Arnold took his own life. He was 60 years old. He leaves behind a wife and son.

After a long struggle with your various mental health and ACC agencies, unemployment and depression finally got the better of him.

Though I am now 48, I have had no direct experience of suicide until yesterday's rude awakening. To watch my 68-year-old mother and her 84-year-old sister grieve for their dead brother was a sight I wish on no fellow human being. Our suicide toll now far surpasses our road toll, However, I discover that your Government cut all funding to the surviving family of suicide victims on July 1, 2010.

Are you at all aware or concerned about the implications of your actions? How much cash was saved? How many books were balanced? Do you and Nick Smith feel proud of your team and their targets? Do you feel like a hero of the nation? How do you sleep at night? As far as I'm concerned, you and your Government have blood on your hands.

Your urgent response explaining your motives for changing the legislation is required.

My uncle will be buried tomorrow morning. On behalf of your Government, please let me know what words you would like spoken on your behalf or in your defence at his funeral.

Simon Prast
One Tree Hill