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Discussing mental health in NZ has long been something that's firmly swayed away from. I remember as a kid, how my neighbourhood dealt with a family, where the father took his own life. It was spoken in hushed tones, but never about why or how to help that family, it was like they had a black spot on their door. Fast forward many decades and I found myself, a father of three, driving West Auckland trying to find a place to end my life... I'd just wrung myself out.
It was post that suicide attempt that I was diagnosed and started treatment.
Whilst I'm grateful for the treatment I received, it did not work, I found that the counselling was going in a direction that was not helpful and around me, family and friends seemed more concerned about 'not upsetting me' or absorbed in their own reactions, that compassion was not there. It meant that a two years later, an episode, (not a suicide attempt), led to the end of my marriage...
Thanks to by my GP, I got some funded sessions with a counsellor that worked for me.
That's a problem, my GP had to pull in favours to help me with funding, otherwise, I'd have had to put off counselling, as I was only working part-time and the funded sessions really helped until I changed role and could pick up the bill.
My thoughts are two fold, firstly, there has to be a lot more funding made available for treatment and treatment options for mental health. Mental health should be treated as we treat accidents, where our central Government funds the care. It would be great to know that diagnosis of Clinical Depression would get me the same level of treatment and rehabilitation as if I broke my leg in an accident. ACC has some very deep pockets, so the funds are there for a model such as this.
Secondly, we need to do a lot more work in how as a nation we acknowledge and understand mental health. It's still very much viewed as a preventable thing, like an STD. That if you have it, then shame on you… is still the attitude… I know that the stigma of being at the point where ending my life was a viable option to me left me vulnerable and instead of compassion people turned away.
The discussion should be about mental wellness, not just suicide. Suicide doesn't just happen, it's the act of a person who has been in pain for some time. It might seem out of the blue for family and friends, but it's not. We should seek to relieve that pain, it's not enough to just want to keep people alive, but alive AND happy and well.
Obviously when someone passes only the living can tell their stories, so in cases of suicide you have a narrative that is dominated by the grief of family and friends and doesn't give the true victim their voice. There is so much I think NZ is getting wrong in our discussion. Let people who have been there and survived speak and everyone else stay quiet and listen.
The media talks of suicide rates as a problem but without true compassion or acknowledgement of the pain. People who are marginalised, struggling, and mentally unwell often already see themselves as a problem. Sometimes they think they are doing the best thing for those around them by taking their own lives. Discussing the "problem" of suicide rates only feeds the voices of mental illness that tell patients that THEY are a problem. Instead lets talk about mental illness and treatment, acknowledge the pain and struggle, talk about our collective wish for people to find relief, balance and happiness and our support for their fight and efforts to find this. All members of society must be valued and cherished, even if they are in the midst of a battle with mental illness, we must still care and be compassionate and show them they have a place and we are here for them.
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