Response to suicide attempt criticised

Southland Hospital. Photo: ODT files
Southland Hospital. PHOTO: ODT FILES
A Southland woman feels she has been let down by the mental health system.

About two months ago she called the Southland Mental Health Emergency Team (SMHET) after trying to commit suicide — but she is still waiting for a call back.

With the increasing number of suicides in the region, she was worried there was not enough help for people struggling with mental health in the community.

The woman, who asked not to be named, tried to take her own life on June 21.

"I was in complete desperation and helplessness," she said.

"I no longer wanted to live. I was in an extremely dark and vulnerable state.

"Death was the only answer for me — I felt like a burden to everyone and I felt that I was too hard to be loved by my family members and friends.

"Suicide was the best way out."

It was a memory of her children which brought a flash of hope and gave her the strength to look for help, she said — she called SMHET at Southland Hospital and spoke with a staff member.

She explained the whole situation and told her she had tried to take her own life.

However, she felt the staff member "downplayed" the situation.

The staff member then told her she was on a callout in Bluff but would call back in about an hour.

Instead of getting a phone call, the woman was visited by two police officers.

She felt shocked and panicked, thinking something had happened to one of her family members, but the officers explained they were there for a "wellbeing check".

"I had a chat with them about what had happened and they were very casual about it all.

"They seemed disinterested and yet again I felt unheard and unseen.

"The police were busy looking around my house, saying what a nice home that I had and that I looked fine.

"I explained that I may look fine, but my head was in a very dark place."

She said the conversation took about 15 minutes and they left — "that was all".

The woman thought SMHET would still phone her back or at least check on her, but she did not hear anything from the team.

She had since approached the SMHET several times to raise her concerns, but she still felt unheard.

"I have battled with depression and I have reached out for help a few times over the years and I have been let down over and over again, just like many other people have.

"This is disgusting. Our suicide stats [in Southland] are at an all time high. And you reach for help and get pushed away."

Southern District Health Board mental health, addictions and intellectual disability general manager Louise Travers said she could not comment on individual patients for privacy reasons.

However, she said each phone call SMHET received was answered by a mental health professional, who triaged the call based on the information gathered; a plan was developed from the information obtained, with the safety of the patient and family as a priority.

This would include follow-up if it was thought necessary, she said.

"If someone is threatening imminent self-harm, the process is the police are called, as they are the first responders in situations like this.

"We are always happy to review individual patients’ care, and discuss with them the reasons for a particular response."

She said SMHET was not always the appropriate service to deal with people’s psychological distress, particularly if they were engaged with other services for support.

"Incidents involving current patients of the service who have been seen face-to-face are reviewed with a psychiatrist, either in person or as part of a team."

SMHET received between 600 and 800 calls a month, she said.

Southland area commander Inspector Mike Bowman said police received 58,124 calls nationwide last year involving a person having a mental health crisis, in distress, or threatening suicide.

The responsibility for providing services primarily rested with mental health services and police provided assistance where legislation provided for police intervention.

Frontline police staff underwent mental health training as recruits and police had refresher e-learning modules available for all staff, he said.

"Mental health-related crisis and distress calls to police are complex and vary in severity," he said.

"Each person’s circumstances are unique and it is important that people in mental distress and crisis get the right help at the right time."


Need help?

Need to talk? 1737, free 24/7 phone and text number
Healthline: 0800 611-116
Lifeline Aotearoa: 0800 543-354
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828-865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
General mental health inquiries: 0800 443-366
Depression Helpline: 0800 111-757
Youthline: 0800 376-633, txt 234 or
What’s Up (for 5-18-year-olds; noon-11pm): 0800 942-8787
Kidsline (aimed at children up to age 18):  0800 543 754 (0800 KIDSLINE) 




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