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Suicide Prevention Strategy puts wellbeing at the forefront

Updated: Oct 27

The development of the Whanganui Suicide Prevention strategy is now in its final phases as the implementation design beings to take shape.

Informed by conversations, interviews and design workshops with communities and professionals throughout the Whanganui, Rangitīkei, Ruapehu district over the last 12 months, the strategic intent takes a whole of community, whole of systems approach to the prevention of suicide.

Nine momentum building initiatives have been identified which will be focus points for the strategy, with those at risk placed at the centre of the support system.

Healthy Families Whanganui Rangitīkei Ruapehu, Suicide Prevention Project Manager Marguerite McGuckin says “Suicide is a complex kaupapa and the process we have undertaken has been ultimately to talk to as many people as possible, to acknowledge their journey and to understand how we can collectively do better for everyone.”

“We’ve had so many amazing conversations that have contributed to the co-design of this approach, from whānau, health practitioners, education providers, those who have lived experience of suicide, from youth to kaumātua and in both urban and rural settings” she said.

The Healthy Families team have enlisted the expertise of Health Psychologist Barry Taylor to assist with the technical and evidence base for the strategy. Barry has a raft of experience as a narrative therapist, both nationally and internationally in relation to the impacts of trauma and suicide. “What I like about this is it’s about building a movement of people, not just key stakeholders sitting around a table with evidence and writing the plan, it truly has been a bottom up approach. People at leadership levels have believed in the Healthy Families approach, because it’s not caught up in outputs and performance indicators but has been facilitating dreaming and thinking with and for the people of the region. Its re-framed to be wellbeing focussed that’s something everyone can see themselves in.” he says.

“If we have whānau who are committed to well-being and are also equipped to deal with tough times, to be able to be there in the messiness and darkness, confusion and pain that’s leading people to this point, not to tidy it up but just be there, be there as a custodians of hope, then that’s change in the right direction” said Mr Taylor.

The Whanganui District Health Board CEO, Russell Simpson, wanted the new strategy to be developed within community and by community. Russell is also a member of the Healthy Families Whanganui Ruapehu Rangitīkei strategic leadership group, so he knew the approach would need some of the methodologies, collaborations and engagements that Healthy Families NZ is known for. Russell identified that in order to make the changes required to the current system communities would need to be at the heart of the conversations.

“The Healthy Families approach has been significantly different to the clinical approach that’s previously been undertaken. This has been about understanding the community we live in and the causes of people taking their lives. We need to understand what the drivers of this are,” said Frank Bristol Poutū Whakahaere - General Manager, Balance Aotearoa.

“There has been deep listening and connection in order to understand what’s been happening for our people in the wellbeing space, it’s a simple thing to give the gift of time, to hear and listen, we’ve felt really connected to the work. There aren’t many people in our community who haven’t be touched by someone taking their own lives” he said.

“What we’ve heard is that our system doesn’t meet the needs of our community at present, people don’t know who to turn to, what services are available and what criteria they need to meet in order to access these services. And in the meantime, our people continue to struggle” says McGuckin. “We’re also hearing that there are some amazing initiatives and connections happening in our community - people doing really good stuff that ultimately contributes in this space, mostly without realising the positive impact they are making to peoples lives.”

New statistics released this month indicate a slight drop in overall national suicide rates for the past year, particularly for young people. But the picture is still bleak, given the 2019 year holds the highest suicide rates recorded since records began. In the year to June 2019 there were 16 Suicides in the Whanganui region.

“My aspirations are that as a community we will be more purposeful in thinking and acting on what wellbeing looks like, moving away from what we don’t want, being able to see the whānau that are disconnected and alone, staying in touch and being connected, focussing on relationships rather than having conversations about suicide”, said Mr Bristol.

“There is still a long way to go and work needs to be done to address the underlying issues that contribute to suicide, what is required is a collaborative community-wide approach to wellbeing. We as a community, and the health system as a part of that, need to think and act differently to not just address the issue when it comes to a head but provide support that is multi-dimensional and layered to address the many factors that contribute to wellbeing. And our health system needs to be re-orientated to support that” says Impact Strategist and Healthy Families Whanganui Rangitīkei Ruapehu Manager Rebecca Davis.

To find out more or get involved with this kaupapa please contact Marguerite McGuckin on 0278893655.



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