Rachel Smalley: King's exit from suicide prevention panel a huge loss

Rachel Smalley,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 16 May 2017, 6:41AM

Mike King's exit from the country's suicide prevention panel.

It's a loss. A huge loss. He is a man who has been so central and so important to confronting the issue of mental health in this country, and who has been a passionate advocate of the need to do more in the field of suicide prevention.

He isn't lost to the cause altogether. King says he will keep working on this issue, he just won't be part of the Government's suicide prevention strategy.

And central to it all is that King wants a measurable goal - to reduce suicide by 20 percent in the next decade, but that measure has been removed from the Draft Suicide Prevention Plan.

It seems that was the final straw for King.

540 people die every year in this country, by their own hand. And in the space of 10 years, King believes we can reduce that by 54. He wants buy-in from communities and the country to collectively tackle this.

And he says you need a target -- otherwise what are you working for? How do you measure success or otherwise? How do you know if what you're doing is having an effect or not? And the right effect?

In the past, King has been critical of our mental health system. He says it's underfunded and under-resourced and it means professionals are using medication to essentially leave people in a holding pattern until they wait, often for long periods of time, for an appointment.

And this is really crucial I think.

In this country, prompt access to counselling is often only for the well-heeled. If you've got the money, you can get help.

If you don't, then you go down the medicated route and King says some people are being placed on medication and waiting up to six months to see someone.

We're being encouraged to speak out more, we're being told that we're breaking down those old barriers and removing the stigma that's historically been associated with the issue of mental illness, but at the same time we're not keeping pace with demand.

And that's central to King's argument too. He wants to know what's working and what's not? What services are effective? Where is money well spent? Where could it be re-directed?

He says Ministries are working in isolation on this -- the Education, Health, Social Development and Justice Ministries. He says there are double-ups and shortfalls across them all, and the Government needs to figure out what is working before throwing more money at the problem.

Losing King is a huge loss to the Suicide Prevention Panel.

You've got to listen to those who are heavily involved and invested and experienced in this area -- people like Mike King and the former All Black, John Kirwan. They get it. They've been there. They know.

Me? I don't know, but I'm prepared to listen to those who do.  And getting Government, community and countrywide by-in to improve our education and our understanding of suicide prevention, and reduce that rate by 20 percent in the space of 10 years. Well, that seems like something we could all work towards.

What King wants to do is save lives.

But what the government is doing -- by removing the target -- is saving its arse.

Given the high suicide rate in this country, I think we all know what's more important.

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