A week for true aware­ness

Marlborough Express - - COMMENT&OPINION -

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.

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