Commenting on the suicide statistics released by the Chief Coroner today, a leading suicide prevention expert, Barry Taylor, says the increase in suicide particularly in Māori and Pacific Island is now a national disgrace and that unless there is a radical rethink what is being done in the name of suicide prevention the rates will continue to climb.
Mr Taylor who has worked in suicide prevention for over thirty years at the local, national and international levels and who led the first national response to youth suicide in the late 1980’s expressed great disappointment and frustration in the lack of progress in tackling suicide in this country. “We should be concerned about both the quality and the growing number of suicide prevention initiatives being implemented in communities that are not backed by strong evidence in terms of efficacy or safety,” he said.
He is critical of what he sees as a growing and concerning trend of groups and individuals promoting approaches to suicide prevention that are either lacking in evidence or only draw upon evidence that supports their claims and ignores or are dismissive of the broader body of suicide prevention evidence and research, especially when that evidence calls into question their soundness of their approach.
Having sat on national advisory groups that developed state and national suicide prevention strategies in Australia, Mr Taylor is highly critical of the lack of leadership and clear direction in suicide prevention and is not confident that the much-awaited national suicide prevention is going to provide such direction.
“The suicide prevention recommendations in He Ara Oranga were so broad that it was difficult to identify from the report a clear pathway forward” said Mr Taylor. “The recommendations basically reflected the status quo thinking in suicide prevention and lacked a bold vision, innovative solutions or guidance on the necessary refocusing of our suicide prevention efforts,” he said.
Mr Taylor who was highly critical of the draft suicide prevention strategy developed by the Ministry of Health two years ago said “From all accounts of what I understand is in the final version of the strategy, I have little confidence that there has been a radical rethink of the approaches recommended. I can only hope that I am proven wrong”
Mr Taylor is strongly supportive of the call over the weekend by Police for a rethink on alcohol in this country. “The refusal of this government to accept the Mental Health Inquiry recommendation to look at alcohol calls into doubt the Minister of Health and the Prime Minister commitment to addressing suicide in this country when they have ruled out one of the proven effective public health interventions that reduces suicide the tighter restrictions on the access of alcohol.”
“For over thirty years I have sat and listened to the anguish and the despair of countless suicidal people and I have seen far too many family and friends devastated by the suicide of loved ones. The increasing numbers of people dying by suicide is tragic enough, but for me what is even more tragic is that the underlying reasons for the anguish and the despair has not changed in the those thirty plus years. Sadly I do not see this upward trend in suicide rates changing anytime soon and when I read the various national and DHB suicide prevention action plans I am not confident that much of current public policy will in fact reverse this trend. In fact New Zealanders could be justified in wondering if we have been served well by suicide prevention policy over the past ten years.” said Mr Taylor.