Warning: This article is about suicide and may be distressing for some readers.
Mental health experts are calling for urgent action as New Zealand suicide deaths reached their highest level since records began 12 years ago. There were 685 suicides in the year to June 30 - 17 more than last year, when there were 668. The Lakes District Health Board area has not been untouched by what the Prime Minister calls one of our biggest long-term challenges as a nation.
Twenty-three of the 685 people who committed suicide in New Zealand in the year to June 30 lived in the Lakes District Health Board area, according to Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall's provisional regional suicide statistics.
That's the highest number since 2010/2011 and more than twice the number the year before when nine people committed suicide.
Lakes DHB acting chief executive Gary Lees said the board was "deeply saddened" by the numbers and acknowledged the pain of loved ones affected.
He said the DHB still had "a long way to go to address this very serious issue".
"Solutions involve a whole system response, health has a strong role to play and Lakes DHB is committed to work together with other agencies."
He said the DHB was working with the Ministry of Health, the Health Quality and Safety Committee and Midland Regional DHBs to address the independent inquiry into Mental Health and Addictions' recommendations, and he said the focus of the DHB's new model of care for mental health and addictions, Te Ara Tauwhirotanga had a focus on early prevention.
"A multi-agency suicide prevention group has been established by Lakes DHB to update the Suicide Prevention Strategy Plan for our district for the next three years."
The number of Māori lives lost increased dramatically from 142 to 169 in the latest national statistics.
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Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Pikiao social services Kia Piki te Ora project leader Te Pae Akurangi Fitzell hoped the new national suicide prevention strategy, due to be announced in the coming weeks, would put "a lot more resources and funding into grassroots mental health initiatives, especially hapū and marae led".
"It's just like that saying, 'if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got'. We have a lot of services with a clinical, Western approach and I don't believe they are working for our whānau. They can be helpful but we also need kaupapa Māori, especially for our Māori males."
She said connections with maunga, awa and lakes, and traditional healing, were just some examples of that approach.
Akurangi Fitzell also hoped feedback from families bereaved by suicide would play a bigger role in shaping services in the future.
"A lot of funding goes into our services and they are not always created with feedback from people who have been personally affected. I think that is really important though."
She hoped people facing mental health struggles would continue trying different avenues if one didn't help.
"It may be a counsellor they talk to, it may be a close friend or it may be a koro or an aunt. As long as it is someone you trust. For some people, sport makes the biggest difference, or for others, medication."
Jill Moore, who has been a counsellor in Rotorua for more than a decade, said one of her job's biggest challenges was getting people in a dark place to look at the bigger picture.
"It seems when people know someone who has committed suicide, those friends and family are more likely to consider suicide as an option when they too are in a dark place. And who doesn't know someone who has been in these statistics in New Zealand?"
Nationally, employed people made up 305 of the 685 victims - the rest were unemployed, students, prisoners, pensioners and children.
Jamahl Peneamene, who founded men's mental health group Man Walk Rotorua this year, said juggling work, children, and other commitments was often a barrier for to support for men in their 20s like him.
"Having the time to be able to go to someone to get help, if you've got a full-time job - it's very difficult."
Figures revealed to the Rotorua Daily Post in June, after an Official Information Act request, showed that three homeless people committed suicide between January 2018 and March 2019 in Rotorua.
They were a man and a woman between 25 and 29 years old and a man between 70 and 74.
After the Chief Coroner's new statistics released this week, Love Soup Rotorua co-founder Elmer Peiffer said: "We have people who are struggling to find homes, basically telling us they are in a ticking time bomb, with the pressure creating anxiety and depression for them."
"Deprivation seems to be the root cause for many people we work with, who are struggling with mental health issues and, in some cases, suicide is the result of that."
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:
• 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