An internationally respected New Zealand suicidologist who has recently returned to NZ to live, Barry Taylor, has urged all political parties and funders not to focus solely on suicide among young people but to produce policies that are evidence-based and target the group most of risk of suicide, men aged over 25 years old.
“Suicide in young people captures communities concern but if we are serious about reducing the rate of suicide in this country, we must focus our efforts and resources towards the groups that are most killing themselves and it this is middle aged and older men,” said Mr Taylor
Mr Taylor who has worked in suicide prevention at the local, national and international levels for thirty years led the first national response to youth suicide in the late 1980s. “The generation who were killing themselves as young people then are still killing themselves in their forties,” he said.
Mr Taylor expressed great disappointed that in the last six years since he last left New Zealand little progress has been made in addressing suicide in men over 25 years old, the group that year after year the suicide statistics show to be the age and gender group most at risk. Prior to his departure, he organised a national gathering of men to come together to collectively debate the issues that affect men’s mental health and why suicide is a solution to their distress.
“There were some well-considered recommendations based on men’s lived experience. Sadly, when I left the country there was not the leadership to carry the work forward. Now is the time to take depression and suicide in men out of the too hard basket and for like-minded organisations to come together to develop a national collective vision and strategies,” he said
Having sat on national advisory groups that developed state and national suicide prevention strategies in Australia, Mr Taylor is highly critical of the draft suicide prevention strategy developed by the Ministry of Health for failing to provide leadership on suicide in men and questioning why men were not even identified as a priority population. Commenting on the priority populations identified in the strategy, Mr Taylor noted “It is not Maori but Maori men, not Pacific Island but Pacific Island men, not young people but young men, in LGBTI communities it is gay men, trans women – i.e. men who have transitioned to women and intersex that are the groups most at risk.
“The danger with having too broad priority populations is that we often do not focus on the key risk and protective factors and the main opportunities for engagement and effective prevention and intervention,” said Mr Taylor. “The draft strategy falls into this trap and failed to provide any clear pathway or prioritising of activities or programs reading more like a bucket list of things that could be done.”
“After there was significant criticism of the previous National Suicide Prevention Strategy 2006 – 2016 for it’s lack of prioritisation of men and despite assurances by the Ministry of Health then that the next strategy would redress this omission, this strategy fails to include effective strategies that address suicide in men over 25. The Ministry’s response when I pointed this out was extremely disappointing and gives me no confidence that the final strategy will actually be effective in reducing suicide in this country,” said Mr Taylor.
Mr Taylor says the focus for his work now he his living back in New Zealand is to promote greater community understanding of depression and suicide in men; advocating for strategies that target the men most at risk and are based on sound research and understanding of the issues for men; helping institutions and services to be more responsive to the needs of depressed and suicidal men and the development of a national conversation and collaborative action to address these issues. As a first phase of this national conversation, he is presenting workshops throughout every region of New Zealand for service providers to raise their level of knowledge, skills and capacity to appropriately respond to men in distress.
“These workshops which I have presented all over the world is informed not only by thirty years’ experience of working with suicidal men from all cultures, ages, socio-economic backgrounds and sexualities but also my own lived experience of living with depression most of my life and in recent years a period where suicide was for the first time an possible option and the factors that helped me through the darkest moments,” said Mr Taylor.