Warning: This article is about youth suicide and may be distressing for some readers.

Ministry of Health officials have come under fire for "not actually taking a stand" on suicide at a National Zero Suicide Forum in Auckland.

Officials were called out for a lack of leadership to reduce New Zealand's suicide rates - some of which are the highest in the developed world - by various mental health and suicide prevention workers.

"It appears to me that you are not taking a stand or responsibility or accountability in terms of what decisions are being made for us as a country around suicide," one mental health worker said to officials at the forum.


Another said: "The level of this mahi [work] is actually quite traumatising. It can get lonely and it is hard. I have to look back at my governance; where are you to back me?"


Investigation: The untold story of teen suicide in the North.
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The full Break the Silence series can be read here.

"I would encourage you to talk to the people on the ground," one youth mental health advocate added. "There are doors shutting all the way. The answers are there, you just need to ask us."

Clinical experts from the United States, Australia and Ireland spoke at the forum, which was organised by Grow, about the importance of adopting ambitious national goals to cut suicide rates.

They advised steering policies away from vague statements and adopting hard and fast targets, like a zero suicide prevention strategy in healthcare.

Ministry of Health director of mental health Dr John Crawshaw and ministry spokeswoman Hannah Cameron delivered a presentation to the forum discussing the draft suicide prevention plan currently being worked on at top levels of government.

They couldn't provide any concrete details about the plan because, they said, it wasn't going be released until after the 2017 election.


"We have a stubborn statistic, in the sense that our suicide rate is not changing," Crawshaw said. "And doing more of the same won't produce anything other than the same. We need to think differently. We need to have a different outcome."

Cameron then added "the dialogue that's been happening in the media and around New Zealand is a real opportunity".

For the past four weeks the Herald has run a special series on youth suicide called Break the Silence to analyse why we have the highest teen suicide rate in the developed world.

"We are at a point where there is an opportunity to really evaluate how we think about some of those issues," Cameron said.

She then went on to add that "putting a number on a target can be dangerous" because, she suggested, you can lose focus of each individual person.

This sentiment was challenged by those in the audience.

Shaun McNeil, of Emerge Aotearoa, was on the Government's expert advisory panel that concluded a target to reduce suicide should be the main purpose of the ministry's new suicide prevention strategy. He told the forum that the advisory panel had agreed on a target and what it should be.

"That target was put forward and pushed back. I need to insist that a target is going to drive action and we need a target for New Zealand," he said, followed by a round of applause from the audience.

Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman's office recently rejected that target - which was to reduce the rate of suicide by 20 per cent over a decade - because of fears the Government would be held accountable if it didn't drop, according to documents obtained by the Herald under the Official Information Act.

The Herald asked Crawshaw and Cameron if the ministry would reconsider the target suggested by the panel, which had been repeatedly called for at the forum, and Cameron said the minister was "looking into it".

Organisers thanked Crawshaw and Cameron for "being prepared to front up" to the forum.

"We had a lot of discussion about whether we should come and what we should say because we were aware there weren't a lot of concrete things we could say," Cameron said. "It was important for us to be here to listen and let people ask us these questions."

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If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.

If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:

LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234

There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.