The Mental Health Commissioner has called on the Government to set a suicide reduction target.

Kevin Allan is the independent watchdog tasked with monitoring and advocating for improvements to mental health services, and dealing with complaints.

He appeared before Parliament's health committee today and added his voice to those calling for a target, telling MPs suicide prevention needed to be an integral part of a mental health plan.

"I know there has been a debate about targets, about reducing suicide. I know there is concern about how do we have Government committing to a suicide target when some of that stuff is outside of their control," Allan said.

Advertisement

"But I think suicide is such an issue in New Zealand we need to have an active commitment to reducing it. And we need a figure to work towards. It is not the Government's responsibility alone - they cannot do this by themselves. But I think we need a commitment to a reduction in suicide and a clear target for that."

Last month the Herald reported on documents that showed Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman's office had declined to set a target to reduce the rate of suicide by 20 per cent over a decade.

However, Ministry of Health officials recently told the Herald that Coleman was "looking into" setting a target.

An expert advisory panel established by the Government had concluded a target to reduce suicide should be the main purpose of the ministry's new suicide prevention strategy. The target would have seen New Zealand aiming for 12 fewer people to die from suicide per year, each year until 2027.

Allan told committee members they would not be surprised to be told demand for services was not always being met, and that gaps needed to be filled.

"If you are a GP and you pick up the phone to talk to a gynaecologist you can often get through. If you are a GP and picking up a phone to talk to a psychiatrist there is nobody at the other end. That is not the case in all areas, but we need to do better on those basic sort of things."

Coleman was recently targeted by lobby group ActionStation, which put up billboards in his Northcote electorate, challenging his decision to not launch a mental health inquiry.

The billboards look very similar to the minister's campaign billboards with a picture of Coleman and accompanied by the words "77% of Kiwis want a mental health inquiry (But not me) - Dr Jonathan Coleman, Minister of Health".

Advertisement

Today, Allan said he agreed with Coleman that an inquiry or review was not the best option, given that could take 12 to 18 months. Rather, Allan said an action plan would be a faster way to address shortcomings.

This year's Budget allocated an extra $224 million over four years for mental health services. Coleman is expected to release details of what new initiatives will be funded in the next month.

Labour has released policy to spend $43m in a two-year trial in areas of high demand for mental health services, such as Christchurch, ensuring all GP practices have dedicated mental health teams and all appointments related to mental health issues are free.

Seclusion rates coming down

Allan told the health committee that a major positive was a "significant reduction" in the use of seclusion when workers were dealing with the mentally ill.

"And some of that reduction has occurred in services that are most under pressure like Canterbury DHB, it has reduced seclusion rates while at the same time being under considerable pressure.

"But I think we need sharper targets about where we go to. I think the statement about seclusion and restraint is we want to reduce it and eliminate it. I think we need goals saying, what are we going to do, by when, and how do we hold people to account for making progress in those areas."

WHERE TO GET HELP:

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:

DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
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.