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  • Fri, 8, Sep, 2017 - 5:00:AM

The Pitch: Where the candidates stand on youth suicide prevention

This year, on September 23, New Zealand will vote on who gets to lead the country for the next three years. Over the past few months, Villainesse has reached out to a number of politicians, asking them why they think they deserve the vote of young women. In our 2017 election series, 'The Pitch', we asked politicians to make their case to you so that when you go to the ballot box you'll know exactly where they stand.

We reached out to every party currently in Parliament, and received answers from National, Labour, The Green Party, Act and United Future. Although we reached out to a number of National MPs, including the Prime Minister, only Paula Bennett agreed to take part. New Zealand First did not answer our questions, so its MPs are not represented.

Between now and the election, we’ll be providing you with a snapshot of where the politicians we interviewed stand on important issues, so that you can compare and contrast. Next up is youth suicide prevention.

We asked each politician, “What will you do to combat New Zealand’s high rate of youth suicide?”

Here’s what they had to say.



Paula Bennett, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Women: Mental health is an area that I believe needs an all of Government approach. It’s one of our most complex social issues and needs input from the Ministry of Health, Social Development, Police, Corrections and Justice.

The Prime Minister’s Youth Mental Health Project is rolling out programmes and activities in schools, via health and community services, and online to improve the mental health and well-being of young people. This is a $64 million programme which will roll out 26 initiatives.

Budget 2017 includes $224 million over four years to increase support for people to access mental health services and addiction services. And we’ve implemented 30 actions from the suicide prevention action plan 2013-2016 with additional support of $25 million.


Jacinda Ardern, Labour Party leader: This one feels really personal to me – but it probably does to many of us. It’s hard to find someone that doesn’t know a family impacted by suicide. We know that there are things we can do to make a difference – like making sure there are proper services in schools. That’s why we will fund comprehensive health services in every secondary school to provide mental health support. Currently, services only exist in decile 1-3 state secondary schools and is patchy at best. We know we can do better.

Andrew Little: We know the health system has been terribly underfunded by National, and we know one result of this is that our mental health system is in crisis. It’s appalling that we have one of the highest teen suicide rates in the OECD.

We’re committed to putting National’s funding cuts back into our health system, and we’ll make mental health an absolute priority. In our first 100 days, we’ll review mental health services to identify gaps in the system and where resources are needed.

One policy we’ve announced is that we’ll make comprehensive school-based health teams available in every state secondary school. These teams are crucial for ensuring mental health issues are picked up by health professionals at an early stage.

But it’s not enough to just identify that there are issues without services to refer people on to. That’s why I’ve announced Labour will fund the first stage of primary mental health teams in eight sites across the country. That means high-needs patients will have access to a free GP consultation, counselling, and NGO social support. Basically, we’ll increase frontline mental health resources.

Carmel Sepuloni: I’ve worked in the mental health sector as CEO of a Mental Health, Disability and Older People support organisation. I have seen the way in which the under-funding of the sector impacts on the services available. It is one of the fastest areas of concern within my own West Auckland community and nationwide. Mental health is reaching crisis point in NZ after years of National’s underfunding to the health sector. This is not an area that New Zealander’s want their Government to scrimp on.

Our suicide rate is an embarrassment to us as a country and our young people deserve better. We want to make sure there is support available for every young person by putting a GP in every secondary school and students have access to comprehensive youth health services.

Kiri Allan: In the past week, we have had a series of suicides of young, vulnerable people – mostly young women. Our kids can’t access the mental health services they need, our young parents can’t afford to put food on the table and pay the rent. Suicide often occurs when one is at a complete point of hopelessness and helplessness. Labour is going to pump cash into funding comprehensive school-based mental health teams in secondary schools and we are targeting poverty by focusing on health, housing and education – as well as job creation.

At a micro level though, we know suicide is reduced when people feel connected to one another and to something.  I want to help create environments where we reduce isolation and are connected (again) to family and community. Also, I’m always on hand if anyone needs to talk at any time on any day. Once upon a time, many, many years ago, I was lucky enough to have someone pull me out of a very dark rut. I can pay that favour back by paying it forward to anyone who needs a hand themselves.

Louisa Wall: New Zealand’s mental health system is in crisis – funding has not kept up with demand. We have an over-stretched, exhausted work force that doesn’t have sufficient resources to provide the support patients need. Sadly, this means that many people with mental illness, including our young people, are missing out on the support they so desperately need. Youthline has noted that calls from 150 young people a week are not being answered because they do not have the resources to help them.

We will make it a priority to fix the mental health system that is failing so many of our young people. We will ensure our prevention helplines are adequately resourced to meet demand.

We will undertake a comprehensive review of mental health and addiction services to identify the gaps.

There will be nurses in every secondary school who can provide help early on for teenagers with problems and refer them to appropriate mental health services.

We will support a greater public understanding of mental illness and ensure that our young people have access to the support and services they need when they have mental health problems. We will support policies for our youth that will seek to reduce bullying, self-harm and suicide by fostering inclusion through support groups and encouraging attitude change.

Extra funding for mental health will ensure that the currently unacceptable waiting times for treatment are reduced significantly.


James Shaw, Green Party leader: Right now we urgently need more money for front line mental health and counselling services which are literally saving lives. Young people need to be able to see a mental health professional when they are crying out for help, not three months later.  Long term, we need to build a society where all young people are celebrated and supported, not written off as ‘pretty hopeless’. That means a better social safety net, a more compassionate and effective justice system, more affordable education and stronger communities.

Gareth Hughes: The current levels are an indictment on the way we treat mental health funding and should be a priority of the Government. We will undertake a significant review of mental health services as urged by mental health experts and ensure it is funded appropriately.

Chlöe Swarbrick: The response to our mental health crisis has to be holistic. We need sustained, real funding for frontline services like YouthLine and LifeLine. We need to ensure people have access to counselling when they want or need it, not months down the track. We need a structural framework for an equitable society that doesn't pile on unsustainable stress and impossible costs of living.

We need to celebrate everyone in our society, and the unique contribution and perspective that they bring. We need to champion a culture of inclusion. We need to move beyond individualising systemic problems, as we’ve been doing for the past few decades, and build communities on the back of stable housing and secure work.

It disgusts me to hear commentators talk about young New Zealanders as lazy and entitled – a convenient narrative in light of intergenerational inequality. Every generation’s struggles are unique and not to be undermined, but it must be said that my generation faces crippling costs of living, huge potential student debt, precarious work and insecure housing.

Golriz Ghahraman: NZ’s alarming youth suicide rate has been repeatedly raised as a concern by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, as it was last year when I was involved in the reporting. Particularly vulnerable groups are the Rainbow community, Māori and Pasifika young people. These groups need tailor-made solutions.

As a first and urgent step, we need to properly fund public mental health services and ensure young people can easily access these services.

Social connectedness and a sense that their life goals are achievable is key to good mental health for young people. Combatting inequality and empowering young people to take part in the world around them has to be part of an ongoing solution. Young people need to be included in formulating our response to their needs, that is in itself a right we are constantly breaching.

Metiria Turei: In the short term, it’s really important that we fund services like Lifeline and Youthline better. But the bigger picture is we need to rebuild some of our communities, provide more opportunities for people to find a sense of purpose and fulfilment, to get involved, get to know their neighbours, and feel like they’re part of something bigger. That means supporting more jobs that pay better, but also championing the arts in communities, sports, music – everything that brings people together.


[Note: The Māori Party’s co-leaders Marama Fox and Te Ururoa Flavell gave the exact same response to this question]

Marama Fox, co-leader of the Māori Party: We have secured $8m over four years for Oranga Rangatahi.  We had previously secured $2.1m in Budget 2015 which funds 36 different organisations in our communities. The initiatives are rangatahi driven, kaupapa Māori models, and specific support is provided for takatāpui.

Te Ururoa Flavell, co-leader of the Māori Party: We have secured $8m over four years for Oranga Rangatahi.  We had previously secured $2.1m in Budget 2015 which funds 36 different organisations in our communities. The initiatives are rangatahi driven, kaupapa Māori models, and specific support is provided for takatāpui.


David Seymour, ACT Party leader: ACT believes in a New Zealand where people can be themselves and exercise their own choices about their lives. A tolerant and understanding society will be one where fewer people experience mental illness and depression. I received a petition to Parliament from Epsom resident Lucy McSweeney who gathered signatures in support of her call for the Government to provide  better guidelines and training for mental health education in schools, and I support it being investigated by one of Parliament’s select committees so that MPs and the public can work together on ideas and solutions.


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