Ru­ral Ma¯ ori men­tal health sta­tis­tics grim

Whangarei Report - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

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