Canterbury’s mental health is “under siege” following a series of traumatic events, with an average of 11 attempted suicides a day last year.

Police statistics released on Wednesday show 4369 attempted suicide events in Canterbury were reported in 2018, up 59 per cent from 2015. Canterbury was ahead of the rest of the country, with Wellington second at 2670 reported attempts.

Published in Stuff

Mental Health Advocacy and Peer Support (MHAPS) service director Fiona Howard said the figures reflected what those working in the mental health sector in the city had experienced since the Canterbury earthquakes.

“We’re a population under stress . . . our earthquake sequences were not the normal one-off pattern, we had these ongoing repeated shocks for years then we had the Kaikōura earthquake, then we had the Port Hills (fires) and then the mosque shootings.

“We’re a community almost under siege in some ways from these dramatic, traumatic, life-threatening events.”

Canterbury was one of five of the 12 police districts around the country to see an increase of over 50 per cent since 2015, along with Tasman, Central, Waikato and Northland.

Nationally, police attended 23,423 events, up 43 per cent from 2015.

Howard said it was “heartening” to see the rate of increase lowered by eight per cent compared to 2017.

“What that suggests to me is that some of what we’re doing is working . . . however, obviously it’s still concerning to see figures that are higher than elsewhere in the country.”

Howard said as a general population Christchurch was potentially more aware of these issues and the fact people were in distress could also represent more people willing to reach out for help.

It was important to distinguish whether the reported events included where actual harm was done or whether concerns were raised about someone’s well being, she said.

“If we’re seeing an increase because people are speaking out more that’s great because it gives us a chance to respond.”

MHAPS figures showed the number of people turning up to their facility for the first time this year was the largest, month by month, they have had in the past 18 months.

“A big month for us would be over 30 new people walking in our door and saying I’m looking for some help and support. This year we’ve tended to have over 40 new people per month.

“It suggests to me we are a population more on edge, it doesn’t take much now for us to feel an overwhelming level of stress for stress to turn to distress.”

Howard said any potential solution should look at having more of a “human to human response” rather than a solution that said people should be diagnosed as having an illness and a disorder.

“I think this is a large part of what’s needed so we can acknowledge, hey this is a terrible thing, any reasonable person would feel threatened and upset under these circumstances, but you’ve got people around you who care about you and you’re resilient and you will get through this.”

Acting Canterbury District Commander Mike Johnson said the number of mental health cases and attempted suicides had been “increasing steadily” in the region since 2015.

“It is always traumatic for Police and other emergency services to attend suicides and this increase in numbers is of great concern to all agencies involved in dealing with these types of events.”

In the 2017/18 year, 87 people in the region died by suicide, up from 79 the previous year.

In the past 10 years, suicides in the region have risen by 42 per cent, from 61 self-inflicted deaths in 2007-2008.

Youth health advocate Dame Dr Sue Bagshaw said the figures revealed the impact of “repetitive trauma” on the region.

“We know that multiple events have far more impact than singular events.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all that our numbers are way higher than the rest of the country.”

Bagshaw said youth in the region were also dealing with an increase in family violence issues, moving homes and insurance problems.

Bagshaw continued to campaign for a youth hub where teens could get support including employment assistance while forming relationships with others.

At a glance: Attempted suicide events reported to police nationwide in 2018

  • Canterbury – 4369
  • Wellington – 2670
  • Central – 2400
  • Waitematā – 2103
  • Counties/Manukau – 1991
  • Nationally – 23,423

Where to get help:

  • Lifeline: 0800 543 354 – Provides 24 hour telephone counselling
  • Youthline: 0800 376 633 or free text 234 – Provides 24 hour telephone and text counselling services for young people
  • Samaritans: 0800 726 666 – Provides 24 hour telephone counselling.
  • Tautoko: 0508 828 865 – provides support, information and resources to people at risk of suicide, and their family, whānau and friends.
  • Supporting Families in Mental Illness, Canterbury: 0800 87 66 82 – Provides one on one wrap-around support for family members experiencing suicide or depression.
  • Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (noon to 11pm)
  • Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (4pm – 6pm weekdays)
  • The Lowdown: thelowdown.co.nz – website for young people aged 12 to 19.
  • National Depression Initiative – depression.org.nz (for adults), 0800 111 757 – 24 hour service
  • If it is an emergency or you feel you or someone you know is at risk, please call 111
  • For information about suicide prevention, see www.mentalhealth.org.nz/suicideprevention

By Sam Sherwood
Published in Stuff
19 June 2019