Warning: This article is about youth suicide and may be distressing for some readers.
New Health Minister Dr David Clark has leveled a stinging accusation at the previous government and his predecessor Dr Jonathan Coleman, saying funding and priority shortfalls led to more victims of suicide. Clark made the comments during an interview with the
as part of its Break The Silence campaign on youth suicide.
The interview charted the new Government's hopes for greater suicide preventions and a pledge that more would be done to save the lives of those contemplating taking their own.
Our teen suicide statistics are the worst in the developed world and we have the second greatest number of self-inflicted deaths among those aged 25 and under.
The latest suicide statistics had the highest number of suicides ever - 606 people took their lives. And the figures were little better measured against an increasing population showing little movement in the last decade.
Clark was critical of Coleman and the previous government during the interview, saying officials were "frustrated" over the failure to develop a new Suicide Prevention Strategy after the previous one expired a year ago.
He also criticised Coleman for failing to match an increase in people seeking mental health support with funding.
Asked if that cost lives, Clark initially said it was "very hard on an individual level to say that somebody died because of a lack of funding".
He then said: "The proposition you've put is one that seems reasonable to me, that if you don't support people, more people are going to take their own lives. I don't think we can deny that."
Asked how he felt about there being no current suicide prevention policy, Clark said: "I have expressed publicly frustration with the previous minister. I don't think there's much point dwelling on that now. I feel the burden of office that I have picked up. I want to make sure we are in a position as government to find solutions."
Labour campaigned on mental health and pledged the return of the mental health commissioner and an inquiry into mental health.
Terms of reference and other details around the inquiry were yet to be settled, Clark said, but forecast it as wide ranging, considering issues of colonisation and poverty.
He spoke of "hardship, or the after-effects of colonisation, or trauma in their own lives or personal histories".
Past practices of shutting down debate on suicide did not deal with an issue that was persistent, Clark said.
"I think we need a public conversation about this. We can't avoid it as a country. We have a problem and we need to talk about it."
But he also challenged media to tell stories of survival and recovery, and not to dwell only of those who had taken their lives.
He had personal experiences of suicide in his family, Clark said, and among those he knew, or had encountered through his work as a Presbyterian minister or Youthline counsellor.
But he said those experiences would not be unusual for any New Zealander, with everyone likely able to relate their own personal story of suicide affecting those in their lives.
Coleman would not be interviewed on the comments. Through a spokeswoman, he said: "Dr Clark has made it clear for some months that he believes the Minister of Health is accountable for New Zealand's suicide rate. It's now up to him to set targets and to meet them."
He also said officials would not be pleased to have the new minister speaking publicly about those in the previous government.
Asked if he would contribute to the upcoming inquiry into mental health, Coleman's email said: "It is very hard to comment on a mental health inquiry as absolutely no details have been provided by the new Government."
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 police immediately on 111.
OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:
• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757