Family dysfunction and relationship breakdown are key drivers of suicide in New Zealand. Yet the Government’s latest suicide prevention strategy doesn’t even mention them. Instead there is the usual sophisticated bureaucratic waffle and nice framework diagrams that mean nothing and will achieve the same.
Mike King, a member of the panel that helped prepare the strategy, expressed his disappointment bluntly. Plenty of others in the media have also joined in the criticism. However even they are missing the point. Against their chorus of cries for the Government to “do something about mental health” is the fact that much is already being done.
Over $1.4 billion of taxpayer’s money is now spent on mental health services every year. Fully staffed acute psych units are available 24-7 all around the country. Community mental health teams provide outpatient care. GPs see and prescribe anti-depressants to tens of thousands of New Zealanders.
No doubt there can be improvements to services. Yet the real question is why are so many more New Zealanders needing help? It is true that stress in all forms can lead to mental health problems. However probably the greatest area of growing stress in our community over the last thirty years has been the increasing dysfunction in our families and relationships.
It is no coincidence that, as the strategy notes, suicide rates among young Maori men are far higher than for others. As a group they have borne the brunt of the new culture of “fluid and diverse” family forms. For many of them fathers have been substituted by a series of mum’s latest boyfriends and they have grown up in insecure, and abusive environments. Is it any wonder they struggle to find meaning, value and hope?
Our ongoing pretense that marriage and commitment do not matter is an exercise in national delusion. It is messing with our minds. Deal with it and then we will make real progress to improve mental health in New Zealand.