Aotearoa's mental health services 'not set up' to help Asian people, expert says

Tailored prevention strategies need to be put in place to stop the increasing number of suicides among New Zealand's Asian population, an independent committee on suicide mortality says.

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Professor Rob Kydd says it’s important to put strategies in place before suicides can occur. Source: Breakfast

It comes after a report by the Suicide Mortality Review Committee highlighted an increase in the number of suicides among the Asian population in New Zealand – something which wasn't addressed in the Government's Suicide Prevention Plan.

The report found that between 10 and 41 people of Asian descent took their own life in New Zealand every year. Figures showed that 33 per cent of the suicides were from those of Indian descent, 29 per cent were Chinese and 14 per cent were South East Asian. Other Asian groups made up 24 per cent.

Most of the suicides were also in the Auckland region, at 72 per cent.

Suicide Mortality Review Committee chairperson, Professor Rob Kydd, said what stood out in the report was a progressive "drift upwards, and that's not just in the numbers, which is what we expect with the numbers of Asians among the population increasing, but the actual rate is slowly increasing".

Source: TVNZ

"Because the numbers are overall quite low, you can't really look at just one particular year in isolation, but this is a drift upwards, and so that was what was concerning for us," Mr Kydd told TVNZ1's Breakfast this morning.

In comparison, the suicide rate for the Pacific Island population in New Zealand is drifting downwards, he said. New Zealand's Māori population has an extremely high rate of suicide.

"The rate for Asians is low, in actual fact, but it's just that it was this drift going upwards that made us think it's actually important while we're trying to put strategies in place to think about that particular population and make sure the strategies are there now than to try and anticipate what might happen in the future," he said.

Mr Kydd said one of the barriers encountered while trying to address suicide rates among the Asian population was "within the communities themselves" and the stigma attached to "seeking help for mental health disorders of any type, and certainly seeking help around suicide".

"We know that something that we call postvention – after there's a suicide – is actually quite important to try and prevent that happening."

One of the other barriers, he said, is that the "systems in place are not actually set up by and large to help Asian people feel comfortable presenting to services".

"There's some very good work going on, some of the Auckland DHBs have got some very good stuff going, but it's not consistent across everywhere, and I guess we'd like to think that people could start to think about addressing that now."

He added that stress around money, culture shock and a change in socio-economic background upon immigrating to New Zealand may also lead to concerns with their mental health.

"I think if you're an immigrant here to New Zealand and you've been screened because of your educational background and health, if you like, and then when you come to New Zealand and you actually, maybe haven't got the socio-economic position that you thought that you might get when you came here, you've got family putting pressures on you back from the home country back on you and particularly here, I guess I'm thinking of students who come here.

"We need to sort of think about type of pastoral care when they’re attending here for education."