Call for more help

Amy Adams.
Amy Adams.
An apparent rise in the number of suicides has prompted a call for improvements to southern mental health services.

Provisional figures released by Justice Minister Amy Adams in response to a parliamentary question from New Zealand First show there were 569 actual or suspected suicides for the year ending May 31, 2015, compared with 529 suicides in the year ending June 30, 2014.

In Otago and Southland, there were 40 suspected or actual suicides, compared with 31 suicides the previous year, the coroner's figures show.

Life Matters Suicide Prevention Trust chairwoman Corinda Taylor, of Dunedin, said the trust had received reports of acute mental health patients at Southern District Health Board sleeping on the floor because of a lack of beds.

In some cases, patients were discharged too early, and families lacked the resources to cope, she said.

''People who have attempted suicide are at greater risk of attempting again, and therefore support is important.

''Most people who attempt suicide are not admitted to hospital.

''Ongoing care of those needing specialised mental health care has moved from institutions to communities which are ill-equipped to care and support those who are struggling, and in danger of attempting again.''

Mrs Taylor said many people found mental health services too hard to access in the South.

''Medication, talking therapy, family education and support ... are among the most essential services for people with serious and persistent mental illness, yet these essential services are under-funded in our region.''

Earlier this year, the trust was concerned by an Otago Daily Times report showing that in a recent year, about 80% of southern suicide victims had been in contact with the mental health system in the 12 months before their death.

Mental health medical director Dr Brad Strong said if a patient was acutely ill, and no inpatient beds were available, it was safer to put them on ''temporary bedding'', a mattress on the floor, rather than subject them to a long wait in the community or transfer.

The acute inpatient unit was being upgraded, which meant it had four fewer beds at present, he said.

Dr Strong said the board could not determine whether suicides were increasing until the figures were finalised.

''Once the figures from the coroner are finalised, we will release how many had contact with the [mental health] system.''

Dr Strong said the health board worked with a wide range of community organisations to support suicide prevention.

''If anyone is concerned about an individual with suicidal thoughts it is important to stay with the person to provide support and then ask for help.''

Psychiatric epidemiologist Associate Prof Joe Boden, of the University of Otago, in Christchurch, warned not to read too much into yearly fluctuations on either a national or a regional level.

''Any increase is bad because we're talking about people's lives here.

''But at the same time, it's quite likely that an increase of that magnitude is simple variation.''

Prof Boden said he would not expect suicide numbers to be falling, because mental health resources were tightening.

''Logically, if there are fewer mental health services available, we would expect the numbers to increase to some extent.

''The issue is getting appropriate services to people.''


Where to get help

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508-828-865




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