Rural Ma¯ ori mental health statistics grim
Being young, male, Ma¯ ori 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 Ma¯ ori in particular, but going by Northland suicide figures, that is a high-risk group.
A breakdown of figures released to Northern Advocate after a request under the Official Information Act shows that 13 of 41 suicides in Northland in 2016/2017 were Ma¯ ori.
The total figure — Ma¯ ori and non-ma¯ ori — was a Northland record, and in line with a nationwide increase.
New Zealand figures are average among OECD nations but young Kiwi males (under 25 years) have the highest suicide rate, and within that group Ma¯ ori are over-represented.
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 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 out 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 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-yearolds experienced a mental disorder in the past year.
More than half of mental disorders began by the midteens 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 through modern multi-media, cyber bullying and discrimination, whether about ethnicity, gender or sexual preference.
■ Where to get help: P5
Dr Lance O'sullivan.