Breaking the Silence recap

On April 24th Life Matters hosted our Breaking the Silence event. We want to extend a huge thanks to all those who attended and especially to our panelists: Maria Dillon, Abigail Clark, James Sutherland, Tiana Mihere, Hahna Briggs and Jane Stevens.

Each of our amazing panelists shared powerful stories of personal loss and their own experiences navigating the Mental Health system. What emerged throughout the evening were some common threads which tie these stories together. These same threads are woven through the stories of the attendees who were brave enough to speak at the event, and in the results of our recent online survey. The survey invited members of the public to share their own experiences of the Mental Health system so we can ensure they reach the Mental Health Inquiry panel. We received over 500 submissions and the results, while unsurprising, are harrowing.

By collating this information we are working to identify what these frayed ends look like in the hope that we can stop vulnerable people from falling through the cracks.

Difficulty accessing services

By far the biggest hurdle to getting care is having the concerns for yourself or your loved-one taken seriously, quickly. Again and again we have received reports of 3 month waiting lists for psychiatric assessment, “not enough beds” available in crisis wards, people turned away because their mental-state or destructive behaviours are not being deemed “urgent” enough and because they do not meet the “criteria”.  It seems that the system is set up to provide care only in the most urgent circumstances, and help is not available to those who are not immediately suicidal. We need to be helping people before they get to that point.

In the same vein, many people report being discharged before they were ready, when they still felt they posed a threat to themselves or others. Again and again we hear stories of people turned away from Mental Health services in times of crisis and, feeling they have no other option, taking their own lives.

Cost is also a barrier to a huge amount of people, who, having been given 6+ weeks to see a psychiatrist in the public system, have no choice but to wait. We have received feedback from people who did get appropriate care privately, thankful that they had the funds and resources to access the support that saved their lives.

Yet another barrier to help is drug-use or addiction. In many cases, if a suicidal person is using drugs, the Mental Health department will refuse to help, insisting they seek help for their drug use. If this is not viable or realistic, addiction services will not help them either, leading to them being bounced back and forth between services and too easily falling through the cracks.

Access to services is difficult enough but it is important to acknowledge that for marginalised groups the difficulties are compounded. Some of these groups include our youth, men, Maori and the LGBTQ+ community, who all face unique struggles along the path to mental wellness.

Lack of compassion

Judgemental, demeaning, dismissive, isolating, cold, clinical, unhelpful and unwilling to listen to family members; just some of the words used to describe encounters with the Mental Health system. Many respondents also acknowledge that Mental Health professionals are often underpaid and overworked, struggling on the frontline of a much larger battle. It is worth noting that there is also a lot of praise for those working within the system, but the callousness of the system itself leads to huge pressures on staff. It goes to show that this issue runs deep, and sees an unhealthy culture perpetuating unhealthy outcomes.

Lack of follow-up

Too often, after seeing a health professional or being discharged from a ward, people are left to their own devices. Time and time again, people have reported being told they would receive a phone call or visit from a professional checking in on their progress, but these phone calls/visits never come. At a time where wrap-around support is crucial to the ongoing wellbeing of the patient, it just isn’t there.

There is also inadequate access to respite facilities and, on occasion, service users have been discharged with no place to go. If a patient is discharged into the care of family, it is unlikely that the family with receive any ongoing support. They are left concerned and afraid, with the huge responsibility to save the life of their loved one.

Inadequate support for families and loved ones

After a suicide, comes grief. Huge, monumental, incomprehensible grief. While navigating this grief a family is also then confronted by the vicious bureaucratic realities of death: funeral expenses, tying up loose ends, debt collection agencies, legal matters and, too often, questions of culpability. The system provides no support or guidance at this point, and in some cases, isolate the family entirely, refusing accountability and silencing the family’s concerns.

Here at Life Matters we believe that legal support should be provided, free-of-charge, to families bereaved by suicide. Families mourning the loss of a loved one should not have to fight so hard for justice. Not alone.

Stigma

Stigma surrounding suicide and mental illness is pervasive and serves to bolster all these barriers to help. Seeking help can be difficult for anybody, and because our society views mental illness through the lens of stigma, many people may be reluctant to receive a diagnosis which could lead to the help they need.

While our youth have access to counselling through school, there is the perception among them that this is not confidential, as school counsellors have been known to pass information forward to teachers. While we may be able to understand the reasoning for this, it is actually likely that it will prevent some kids from seeking the help they need. In some schools, there is little discretion, making it obvious that a child has an appointment. For this reason, many kids are reluctant to seek help when they need it because they don’t want others finding out. This shows how stigma itself acts as a barrier to support; we need to change the discourse and shift the message; It is okay to not be okay.

We should be committed to ending the stigma surrounding suicide and mental illness. If we, as a society, can talk loudly about these issues that affect so many of us, then these barriers to support can be broken down.

 

Remember to look after yourself and loved ones. Use the helplines and ask for help from services. Contact us if you struggle to access help or need support in the aftermath.

We encourage everyone to contribute to the Mental Health and Addictions Inquiry and to connect with the panel if they come to a town near you. You can make an online submission or go to a public meeting. All information can be found on this website. https://www.mentalhealth.inquiry.govt.nz/

 

Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor

Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)

Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Healthline – 0800 611 116

Samaritans – 0800 726 666

Letter to Jacinda Ardern

 Corinda Taylor

Congratulations on becoming the new Labour Prime Minister of NZ.
From one woman to another.

Would you be comfortable to let your loved one use the public system the way it is now?

Recently we saw you cry in public when a mother told her story about how the system failed her daughter who died by suicide. When you shared that tender moment with that mother did you feel her pain and did you realise the gravity of the broken mental health system?

Yesterday I heard how someone had to wait 12 months in the public system to get counselling. Another said the wait with ACC counselling is 6 months. Another couldn’t be admitted due to lack of beds only to be discharged without a plan or any support in place. Another, after an attempt, was admitted but discharged again without a plan or any support in place. Another was told they were not acute enough to be under mental health services because they didn’t have a mental illness. Another was not followed up. Another was told to go to emergency services when unwell and when they did that they were told that they were not unwell enough. They feel they were told to come back when they are serious enough about taking their own life. Some never come back again……. The above happened in a 24 hour period in my life when people inform the Life Matters Suicide Prevention Trust of how they struggle to navigate the mental health system that is designed to not only silence us but also keep us away from care. This is like a war zone in a third world country. We deserve better.

Jacinda, you have given assurance to the relatives of suicide victims that their voices will be heard when your government reviews mental health services when you are elected. Unfortunately you have never promised an inquiry unlike what some people may believe. There is a big difference between a review and an inquiry.

Our waiting lists for good care are huge and people are dying whilst waiting for care. A review will not give us the results we need and our people will continue to die unless you really listen to the voices of our currently 47,000 strong signature petition begging for an inquiry into mental health services.

Today I plead with you to do what is right for every New Zealander.

From one woman to another.

Warm regards
Corinda Taylor (mother of Ross Taylor who died by suicide after he was let down by the individuals in the mental health system).

Mental Health Inquiry

 My son, Ross Taylor took his own life after he asked mental health services for help three times in the last weeks before he died.

 Our family begged the services for help yet our grave concerns were dismissed and ignored.  Ross was only 20 years old and even though he was in the high-risk age and gender group his pleas for help were ignored. It is not surprising that New Zealand has the highest youth suicide rate if people are treated like this.

No person should ever have to feel that suicide is their only option.

We need to provide better care.

Our mental health systems are failing our people and there are huge gaps. Despite our desperate and best efforts to ask for help from the services our pleas went unheeded. If my son was having a heart attack he would have received quality care however mental distress is often treated with less priority and with lack of empathy.

Please sign the petition for an urgent mental health inquiry for our new elected government to prioritize so that no person is turned away when in suicidal crisis.

We ask them to work together across all political parties and make the right decision for all New Zealanders.

I want an urgent inquiry into our mental health crisis so that no one else has to suffer like my son, Ross Taylor.

A mental health inquiry is needed so that we can see how many people are turned away from services, how many people have died by suicide after contact with services within 1 day, 1 week, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 9 months and 1 year. This inquiry needs to look at how many people have been discharged from services, often because they have missed their appointments due to being very unwell and then went on to take their own lives.

The public deserves to know how many people have simply been dropped from services or being told they don’t meet the criteria. None of the above information is gathered to identify what the problems are.

If we have this information we can make positive changes and lives will be saved.

The following to be implemented.

1.       Suicide prevention training for frontline staff to be mandated.
2.       DHB records to be electronic so that clinical information is readily available in a crisis.
3.       Zero suicide target in the health care system implemented.
4.       Increase primary health and GP funding.
5.       Commit to safe staffing.
6.       Independently investigate all serious adverse events (including attempts and self-inflicted deaths) of people who had contact with services up to 1 year after last contact.
7.       Independently investigate mental health services and give people with the lived experience an opportunity share how they and their families have been treated.
8.       Ensure that reporting of suicides by DHBs are mandated for up to a year and not voluntary for up to 28 days only.

Thanks very much for you support,

Corinda Taylor.