Samaritans would welcome target to cut suicide rates

Media release: 9 August 2017

Samaritans, at the frontline of suicide prevention, has welcomed news Health Minister Jonathan Coleman is reconsidering setting a target to reduce suicide rates in New Zealand.

“Suicide is devastating and in New Zealand it is widely known that we have one of the worst youth suicide rates in the developed world,” Samaritans Wellington Chair, Peter Barker, said.

“We need to do something about it now and setting a specific target is a good start. We need government to make a commitment to a goal and to measure progress over time.  Ideally, that goal would be zero deaths by suicide.”

Comedian and mental health advocate Mike King earlier this year quit a government suicide prevention expert panel after key recommendations, including specific targets on cutting suicides, were rejected by the government.

Dr Coleman said in an interview published yesterday in the New Zealand Herald in its Break the Silence series, that after speaking to overseas experts he has asked officials to reconsider the issue of suicide reduction targets.

Dr Coleman said cutting youth suicide was his “top priority” but he acknowledged that the Government alone can’t reduce suicide rates and it needs a whole of society approach.

Over 500 people from all walks of life commit suicide each year and thousands of others attempt or consider it.

Mr Barker said Samaritans, which today is launching its annual fund-raising appeal, is at the frontline of suicide prevention, fielding 30,000 calls annually, many of them dealing with desperate people who may be at risk of suicide.

“Our trained Samaritans volunteers use tried-and-tested methods to assist people in crisis. We deal with people on the brink every day,” Barker said. Samaritans also has a vital role in prevention - listening and talking to people who are depressed, lonely and isolated.  

Barker said Samaritans, as a volunteer organisation that receives no government funding, is  forced to lead a hand-to-mouth existence.

“Everybody in New Zealand knows that we have this awful record on youth suicide as well as far too many adult suicides. It is very positive that the Government is taking the issue seriously. We urge people to give generously in our annual appeal this week, because we are one of the organisations at the front-line doing something about it.”