A week for true awareness
unaffected, but it’s also a valuable reminder that in a world shot through with daily potential stress points, we each owe it to ourselves to be aware of our own mental health and of that of those close to us. As the home page of the website Depression.org.nz says, ‘‘We all face challenges to our mental health.’’
New Zealand’s mental health picture is a concerning one.
We can take it as read that depression and anxiety are major problems, otherwise we wouldn’t need people like former All Black Sir John Kirwan – whose own experience of and recovery from mental illness have played such a major role in addressing it – appearing on television with messages like ‘‘Depression dot org dot NZ. I’ll see you there.’’ Or comedian Mike King travelling the country to raise awareness of our shocking youth suicide statistics.
Figures released by Chief Coroner Deborah Marshall in August showed that 606 New Zealanders had taken their own lives in the year to the end of June, on increase of 27 on the previous year and 42 on the one before that. The rate per 100,000 people in 2016-17 was a worrying 12.64.
The highest number of suicides, 79, came in the 20-24 age group. That followed the release of a Unicef report in June that found New Zealand had the highest youth – 15 years to 19 years – suicide rate in the developed world, at 15.6 per 100,000.
It was abundantly clear from the build-up to the September 23 general election – which may, finally, have a settled outcome in the next few days – that the mental health sector is under-resourced, with the major parties committing more money to battling it, and the Government devising a draft suicide prevention strategy.
This week, though, should serve as a reminder to each of us not only to be aware of our own mental health, and take steps to protect it if we can – the theme of the week is Nature is Key, the message being that nature can play a key role in mental health and wellbeing – but also to be aware of the prevalence of mental illness, and the struggles faced by many throughout New Zealand society, and possibly close to us.
To paraphrase Marshall’s message in releasing the suicide figures in August, it’s not just a case of each of us being intellectually aware a problem exists, but also of being empathetic, of learning to recognise people who are struggling and help them get the professional help they need.