None of us are supposed to be here right now.
The world was supposed to end on October 7th, 2015.
Which would have been bloody typical, because that was right around the time of my birthday and it would be just my luck for everything to go “KABOOM!” (or ”Whimper”?) just before I was able to open a present, or eat some of the delicious birthday cake my wife had baked for the occasion.
But the world didn’t end.
The cake was indeed delicious and I got a model plane I’d been after for some time, so the day was far from catastrophic.
Doomsday predictions are nothing new.
I remember, as an impressionable high school student in the 1990’s, being terrified that Nostradamus had predicted the end of the word would occur somewhere between Phys-Ed and Chemistry on an otherwise typical Tuesday afternoon.
“The End of the World as we Know it” didn’t happen back then either, of course.
Even though it actually did.
Because for millions of people in millions of different ways the world as they know it DOES ACTUALLY END each day.
We see, hear, or read something that changes our previous perceptions.
We fall in love.
We fall out of love.
We have children, or
We learn we can’t have children.
We lose a loved one.
And sometimes numerous people’s worlds as they know it end simultaneously when someone they care about chooses to end their own world.
A “Record 564 people committed suicide” in New Zealand in 2015
That record, like so many lives effected by suicide, was shattered the very next year.
If 380 people dying on our roads in 2017 is “Heart-breaking”, then what is 606 people taking their own lives?
And then, if road crashes and the road toll command so many print and online headlines and television and radio news bulletins, then how do we justify keeping something that takes almost twice as many lives out of the headlines, media attention and public awareness?
Now let me be clear – This is not a competition.
The highest score doesn’t win.
No one wins.
This is an issue in which we all lose.
The last time New Zealand’s road toll was as high as the country’s current suicide rate was 1994/95
For those who can remember back that far – You will recall how much coverage the road toll got and how much effort went into reducing it.
Television, radio and print advertising campaigns, more government funding, increased police presence and enforcement – It was everywhere.
“Only a fool breaks the two second rule”
“Drink, Drive, Bloody idiot”
In 1995 the National Road Safety Plan was launched. Using hard-hitting, high profile advertising like those above and increased enforcement. Its aim was to reduce the road toll to 402 or less by the year 2001.
The following year, 1996, New Zealand’s annual road toll was 515, the lowest number in 32 years.
Since New Zealand started officially recording its suicide rate in 2008 the figure has never dropped below 500.
Unlike 20 years ago, when drinking and driving had been more of an embedded cultural “norm”, today’s New Zealand public have been aware of severe deficiencies in mental health care and suicide prevention for some time and have been pushing for change.
Too many people have lost love ones who thought no one cared, or no one was listening.
But rather than the previous government taking notice or action on such dire figures, like in 1995, the reaction was a bit more… “closed-minded”.
It appeared that only just before the 2017 general election, nine years after taking office, that mental health and suicide prevention looked set to receive more funding.
But even then the two hundred and twenty four million dollars ($224,000,000) set aside for mental health services over four years paled into insignificance when compared to the almost TEN BILLION DOLLARS ($10,000,000,000) the National government were going to spend on highways over the same period.
Mental health services were set to receive 0.022% of what building roads would get.
Even if you took out the necessary $812mill needed to reopen State Highway One between Picton and Christchurch following the 2016 Kaikōura earthquakes, it still only brings that percentage up to 0.024
Such funding would only have been made available upon re-election, of course, and no firm dates were given in the event of that happening.
But, for that National government, the world as they knew it ended on October 7 2017, when Winston Peters chose to form a coalition government with the New Zealand Labour Party.
In their electioneering Labour, the Greens and NZ First all campaigned to put more political influence, funding and focus into the state of New Zealand’s mental health.
It is still relatively early days, politically, since the election and formation of the new government, so I could say we can only hope this iteration of central government will do more than the last.
But I won’t.
Because along with the former Health Minister’s pathetic rebuke of a public call for action, there have been other issues and concerns with how government departments have been approaching and handling the mental health of New Zealanders.
Long time mental health advocate Mike King quit a government suicide prevention panel last year, saying a draft plan the Ministry of Health released was “deeply flawed”, “ignored key recommendations made by the panel” and “continues to fund “failed experiments””
And ultimately, this isn’t just a big, governmental issue.
It’s incredibly personal.
As a Napier MP, Douglas McLean, once said:
“A country made progress despite of its politicians”
It’s up to all of us as a nation to look after each other.
If you’re feeling down or depressed speak up.
Ask for help.
If you see someone struggling, offer them a hand, a shoulder, or a few minutes of your time.
It might save a life.
Break the silence.
WHERE TO GET HELP
Rural Support Trust ph 0800 787 254
Lifeline: Ph 0800 543 354 (available 24/7).
Suicide Crisis Helpline: Ph 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO), available 24/7.
Youthline: Ph 0800 376 633.
Kidsline: Ph 0800 543 754 (available 24/7).
Whatsup: Ph 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm).
Depression helpline: Ph 0800 111 757 (available 24/7).
Rainbow Youth: Ph (09) 376 4155.
Samaritans: Ph 0800 726 666.