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Mental health advocates butt heads over Suicide Prevention office’s fate

Natasha Hill, Te Rito Journalism Cadet

Two mental health advocates are clashing over last’s week announcement of scrapping the Suicide Prevention office as part of the Ministry of Health’s cost-cutting proposal.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

In response to this announcement, mental health advocate Mike King supported getting rid of the office and said it was “just another layer of bureaucracy, receiving funding from the central government, which merely passes it on, clipping the ticket along the way”.

“The Suicide Prevention Office has done nothing since its inception and would not be missed. The fact is, no one outside the office can tell you what they do, what their budget is, or what they have achieved. A simple question arises: Where is the next 10-year suicide action plan?”

King is the founder of I am Hope, an organisation helping rangatahi deal with mental health.

His foundation is set receive $6m in funding each year as part of the government’s coalition negotiations.

But another mental health advocate, Jazz Thornton, opposes King’s views and is disappointed by his comments in scrapping the Suicide Prevention office.

“I think that it is evident Mike King hasn’t understood or seen or taken the time to see the impact that it can have. The entirety of the SPO is about implementing the action plan that was created by lived-experience people, by the people that you’re advocating for alongside professionals, alongside whānau who have lost people.

“Mike and I have very different approaches. I collaborate and work with a lot of different organisations, different charities. I see the value in what different places can do.”

King said if the office closed down the funds could be redirected elsewhere into grassroots organisations where it was “making a real difference”.

Ministry of Health deputy chief executive Robyn Shearer said the ministry remained committed to suicide prevention and had assured the Minister of Mental Health Matt Doocey of this.

Doocey publicly stated his expectation that the Suicide Prevention Office would stay open, to which Shearer replied: “We are developing options to work through with the minister,” which is expected to happen early this week.

“We acknowledge we did not sufficiently brief the minister of mental health on our change proposals. The ministry is sorry for the confusion that this has caused.”

Where to get help:

Lifeline: Call 0800 543 354 or text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)

Suicide Crisis Helpline: Call 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)

Youth services: (06) 3555 906

Youthline: Call 0800 376 633 or text 234

What’s Up: Call 0800 942 8787 (11am to 11pm) or webchat (11am to 10.30pm)

Depression helpline: Call 0800 111 757 or text 4202 (available 24/7)

Helpline: Need to talk? Call or text 1737

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111

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