Mental health advocates support Mike King's stance on suicide prevention

Kevin Stent/Fairfax NZ

Prime Minister Bill English gives his view on Mike King quitting suicide panel.

The chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation says he supports Mike King's criticism of the Government-led suicide prevention strategy.

The comedian and mental health advocate resigned from New Zealand's suicide prevention panel, saying the Government's draft plan was "deeply flawed". 

But it's not just the Government's plan, the Ministry of Health has pointed out. It's a framework for how New Zealanders can work together to reduce suicide, and Kiwis are encouraged to take part in the public consultation process. 

Mike King resigned from a suicide prevention panel, saying the Government's draft plan is "deeply flawed".

Mike King resigned from a suicide prevention panel, saying the Government's draft plan is "deeply flawed".

King said the decision to resign was nothing personal.

* Prevention strategy 'the responsibility of all of us'
Kiwis feel abandoned by mental health system - Mike King 
Mike King's anti-suicide crusade

What's the best approach to prevention strategies? 

Shaun Robinson, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation.

Shaun Robinson, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation.

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson said the Government's 38-page strategy document failed to set specific targets and he agreed with many aspects of King's criticism.

"By resigning he's definitely calling public attention to the issue. I understand his frustration. He's prepared to draw attention to the issue of suicide prevention and make it a public issue.

"The number one thing about the draft strategy is it has no concrete targets.

Dr Kerry Gibson said change was needed in the approach to prevention.

Dr Kerry Gibson said change was needed in the approach to prevention.

"So it makes statements about wanting to reduce the number of deaths: that's a wishy-washy non-specific target."

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Robinson said a World Health Organisation target aimed to reduce suicide by 20 per cent over 10 years, and this kind of target could be applied in New Zealand.

"I see no reason at all why New Zealand shouldn't do that."

The strategy's language did not help understanding, it did not help people in distress, and it did not help people at risk, he said.

What's needed then?

Robinson said commitment to targets, better and earlier access to mental health services, more education around mental health in schools and among the adult population, all helped to improve knowledge and mental health literacy.

Nationwide director of mental health services Dr John Crawshaw.

Nationwide director of mental health services Dr John Crawshaw.

Redoubling efforts to tackle underlying ills, such as child poverty, domestic violence, neglect, homelessness, and bullying, was needed.

"This is not just a Ministry of Health problem," he said.

Prime Minister Bill English, on Monday, said people "go on panels with the best of intentions" and he was not sure what exactly had happened.

"I'm sure he's saved lives with the work that he's done."

Speaking to Stuff, King said he and other members of the panel were under the impression a suicide reduction target of 20 per cent over 10 years was meant to form part of the strategy.

He said he worked well with the Ministry of Health and the panel and there was nothing personal behind his resignation.

"The reason for my disappointment was what we agreed on is not reflected. First and foremost was a reduction of suicide by 20 per cent over 10 years.

"We're not being heard. [The strategy] appears to cover everything by promising nothing."

University of Auckland associate professor and clinical psychologist Dr Kerry Gibson said change was needed in the approach to suicide prevention.

"We need to listen more to the people who are most involved in this issue - people who have had loved ones commit suicide, people who have attempted suicide and also young people whose networks are often affected by suicide.

"I think professionals need to do a lot more listening and finding out what different groups of people say works for them."

Gibson studies youth suicide and research found that despite a focus on media reporting of suicide, it was apparent young people did not get their knowledge and understanding of suicide from mainstream media.

"They get it from conversations with each other - often through social media or text message.

"The restriction on media reporting on suicide means that when a suicide happens at a school, for example, the only people who don't know about it are the adults.  The young people have often been talking about it since the early hours of the morning when the first Facebook messages started coming through.

"We need to recognise that attempt to control the mainstream media's reporting on suicide has only resulted in a gap between the way that professionals and adults discuss suicide and young people talk about it in their own networks.  

"We need to create more two-way conversations on the issue of suicide that include adults and young people and help professionals understand the way that young people think about this issue and what they feel will help them. 

"In general, other countries have tended to have a more open approach to talking about the problem of suicide than New Zealand. 

"I think we could learn from some of these.

"Linking suicide to mental health problems has had pros and cons. It has allowed some people to get access to professional help when they are depressed but young people say they are afraid of being labelled with a mental health diagnosis. This makes them reluctant to approach counsellors or other professionals for help.

"It would be helpful to acknowledge that there are many reasons why a young person might think about suicide and having a mental health problem is only one of them.

"Young people often try and help other young people who are feeling suicidal - and would much rather do this than ask an adult for help.

"Often going to an adult is the very last resort after a group of young friends have tried to look after a suicidal peer for some time.

"It would be good to recognise that young people are already playing an important role in suicide prevention and that they need some support in this."

The suicide prevention research field is vast. 

A wealth of research is available at the click of a button, award-winning e-therapy tools are available in New Zealand, and increasingly mental health is accepted as part of the national conversation.

One systematic review - the gold standard of research involving in-depth analyses of all available research - published in The Lancet said there was mounting evidence that restricting access to lethal means, such as gun control, making it more difficult to obtain certain types of painkiller, and teaching mental health in schools, helped reduce suicide.

But, the review said, no single strategy clearly stands above the others.


*Lifeline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 354
*Depression Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 111 757
*Healthline (open 24/7) - 0800 611 116
*Samaritans (open 24/7) - 0800 726 666
*Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
*Youthline (open 24/7) - 0800 376 633. You can also text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email
*0800 WHATSUP children's helpline - phone 0800 9428 787 between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at
*Kidsline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 754. This service is for children aged 5 to 18. Those who ring between 4pm and 9pm on weekdays will speak to a Kidsline buddy. These are specially trained teenage telephone counsellors.
*Your local Rural Support Trust - 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)
​*Alcohol Drug Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 787 797. You can also text 8691 for free.

For further information, contact the Mental Health Foundation's free Resource and Information Service (09 623 4812).

 - Stuff

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