Rural, Maori mental health stats grim

Temperatures in the 30’s and 42 days without rain in November and December took its toll on grain...
A State of the Rural Nation survey by Bayer NZ found 70% of rural New Zealanders felt higher degrees of stress over the past five years. Photo: Getty Images

Being young, male, Māori and living in rural Northland could be a prescription for mental illness, according to recent statistics and commentary.

Northland general practitioner and medical innovator Dr Lance O'Sullivan has spoken out about what he calls ''an epidemic of mental illness'', especially in rural areas.

O'Sullivan did not refer to Māori in particular but Northland suicide figures indicate it as a high-risk group.

A breakdown of figures released to Northern Advocate under the Official Information Act shows 13 of 41 suicides in Northland in 2016/2017 were Māori.

The total figure — Māori and non-Māori — was a Northland record, and in line with a nationwide increase.

New Zealand figures were average among OECD nations but young Kiwi males (under 25 years) had the highest suicide rate, and within that group Māori were over-represented.

A spokesperson from mental health services provider Ngati Hine Trust was unavailable for comment about the rise, or about Māori mental health and youth issues. A Northland District Health Board spokesperson was not available to speak, either.

O'Sullivan's comments were in response to a State of the Rural Nation survey by Bayer NZ which found 70 per cent of rural New Zealanders felt higher degrees of stress over the past five years.

The most affected were people aged from 18 to 39, with 85 per cent of that age group saying they had suffered stress and anxiety. The study also showed 56 per cent of all participants were uncomfortable talking about their mental wellness and would rather ''deal with it'' themselves.

Just under half said stigma attached to the topic prevented them talking or seeking help.

''Rural communities are often geographically isolated which invariably means limited access to mental health resources. It's no secret New Zealand is in the middle of a mental health epidemic and this a reminder that the effects are widespread,'' O'Sullivan said.

There was ''no quick fix'', especially with a shortage of mental health professionals across the board, he said.

''If people are experiencing negative emotions or feeling isolated, they should always
reach to a trusted party — whether someone they know or a health professional. People should know they're not alone.''

Resources could also be accessed remotely, via online platforms and phone apps, O'Sullivan said.

Auckland University of Technology (AUT) expert in mental health Professor Max Abbott said more needed to be done to reverse escalating youth suicide rates.

The New Zealand Mental Health Survey found almost 30 per cent of under-25-year-olds experienced a mental disorder in the past year.

More than half of mental disorders began by the mid-teens and went undetected and untreated, often becoming long-lasting, Abbott said.

They could be triggered or compounded by changes such as leaving home for work or further education, family violence, world hostilities and trauma brought closer through modern multi-media, cyber bullying and discrimination, whether about ethnicity, gender or sexual preference.

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