Mental health advocates have praised the Government's announcement of a new office dedicated to lowering record-high suicide rates but some are disappointed there's no separate plan to help Māori.

Long-time mental health campaigner Mike King joined Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Health Minister David Clark as they unveiled an update to the country's suicide prevention strategy.

The last plan expired in 2016, while suicide rates reached their highest levels on record in the year to July, with 685 deaths in the past year and a particularly sharp rise among youth, Māori and Pacific Island people.

During Monday's announcement, Ardern described how as a youth who had just started high school, she saw the effect of suicide on those around her - a story she previously recalled while Opposition in 2017.


"I remember every single detail of the day my best friend's brother took his own life. Every single detail," she said.

"To this day it is an experience that my friend and I continue to relive after all of these years. That taught me the impact of suicide on families, on whanau, on communities, on schools … And now there are 685 of those stories around the country in one year alone."

As part of its plan, the Government has launched a "Suicide Prevention Office" - one of the recommendations from a major inquiry into the state of the country's mental health and addiction services.

Mental health campaigner Mike King has praised the Government's plan but says targeting particular groups isn't the answer. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Mental health campaigner Mike King has praised the Government's plan but says targeting particular groups isn't the answer. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The office will co-ordinate work between different government bodies to try to reduce suicide rates as well monitoring the Government's progress in the area.

It will initially be run out of the Ministry of Health before becoming a separate body run by a new "Director of Suicide Prevention".

The announcement coincides with World Suicide Prevention Day.

Other major parts of the plan, which the Government says is meant to complement other initiatives, include:

• funded, free counselling services for bereaved by suicide
• increasing suicide prevention services in DHBs by making sure there is full-time coordination of the work
• more funding for emergency departments to deal with mental health crises
• more support for targeted Māori and Pacific suicide prevention initiatives


The plan also aims to put focus on collecting more data, and moving towards supporting more community-led approaches to mental health.

"Wellington, central Government, does not have all of the answers," Ardern said.

"But it must be responsible; we must be responsible, for providing leadership. We need to provide adequate funding for communities and services groups."

The Mental Health Foundation has praised the announcement overall, although it lamented there was no specific Māori suicide prevention strategy.

"[But] the Foundation is glad to see the strategy specifically acknowledges the need to promote Māori ownership of Māori wellbeing and suicide prevention and is committed to building on the strengths and leadership of Māori whānau, hapū, iwi and communities," chief executive Shaun Robinson said.

"Māori communities bear a disproportionate burden of suicide. Evidence and history demonstrate this will not change without empowering and resourcing Māori whānau, iwi and communities to work to develop their own solutions."


Robinson said he was extremely supportive of the plan to set up the new office.

"We've had a vacuum of leadership in suicide prevention for years," he said.
"That's caused tremendous pain, division within the sector, fractured services and poorer mental health outcomes for some of New Zealand's most vulnerable people."

King, too, backed the office.

"It's a fantastic thing and I can't wait for it to get started. It's the missing factor. This topic needs someone at the top," he said.

But while he was full of praise for the Government's plan overall and said it had achieved in two years what the entire previous administration didn't in nine years, he disagreed about focussing more on at-risk groups.

"Every life matters … In our efforts to look for the groups that are most disaffected, in our efforts to focus on those groups, what we are saying to the rest of the population is these people are more important than your people," she said.


"In our effort to the right thing by the at-most risk we're actually creating more problems. I say we need to drop all of this and focus on lifting everyone up."

The new office will initially be run out of the Ministry of Health before becoming a separate body. It will be run by a yet-to-be-appointed "director of suicide prevention".

The National Party has also welcomed the announcement, but its mental health spokesman, Matt Doocey, said he hoped the Government would take a cross-party approach.

"We're disappointed the Government hasn't accepted its own mental health inquiry recommendation of a target to reduce suicide by 20 per cent by 2030," he said.

"Although zero suicides in New Zealand should be the ultimate goal, a suicide reduction target as recommended by the inquiry could be a first step."



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.


0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (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 or TEXT 4202