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Government working to reduce NZ's record suicide rate, but targets aren't the answer - Ardern

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said today the Government is working to reduce numbers of suicides in New Zealand, with a prevention plan expected in coming weeks, but she stands by not setting targets.

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The Prime Minister spoke about New Zealand’s damning suicide rates as new figures show the highest level in 12 years. Source: Breakfast

It comes as new figures show suicide in New Zealand is now at the highest level since records began 12 years ago. 

In the year to June 30, 685 people died by suicide - 17 more than in the previous year and just under twice the road toll.

Since 2007, 6889 New Zealanders have taken their own lives.

New Zealand has one of the worst youth suicide rates in the OECD, and across the board it's getting bleaker.

Ms Ardern told TVNZ1's Breakfast today the numbers released yesterday were terrible, but added that even if the numbers were lower that the previous year it would still be too high.

"It would still be too high for every New Zealander because that represents a lost loved one, a family member, a member of a community," she said. 

If setting targets, as was recommended by the mental health inquiry, had worked overseas to reduce the number of deaths by suicide she would look at the evidence, she said, but no one could produce the findings.

"For me I just had that discomfort of claiming that even if we'd reached that target that somehow we had a tolerance for loss of life via suicide and I don't think any of us do.

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The biggest rise is among young people and Māori and Pacific Islanders. Source: 1 NEWS

"That's not to say, of course, that we shouldn't be taking tangible action - things like the prevention strategy."

Ms Ardern said the Government's May Budget made significant investment in the mental health sector, and the Government has done work in schools to add counselling services for young people.

"Now is the time for action," she said, adding it would take five years to build the workforce.

"It is one of our really difficult challenges as a nation and for us as a Government because of course we have a really central role to play.

"It is tough and it's going to take time, but all of us do have a role. We don't have to feel disempowered, we do have a role to play in trying to turn these numbers around."

When asked about the disproportionately high numbers of Māori in the statistics, Ms Ardern said: "We have seen those numbers and we have seen those failings and we've got to be open and honest about that, but we've also got to start talking positively about how we can turn that around and make change. I will always be an optimist but we have to work with Māori on that."

Ms Ardern said investment was being ring-fenced to design a solution that works for Māori. She said there would also be a specific design for Pacifika.

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Ezekiel Tamaana Raui talks about the damning statistics which show New Zealand suicide rates are the highest in 12 years. Source: Breakfast

Mental health advocate Ezekiel Tamaana Raui earlier told Breakfast there had been a "blanket approach" to addressing suicide in New Zealand.

He called for acknowledgment of the different groups affected by suicide.

"I think for us as an entire country we need to transition from the raising awareness phase of mental health to the actionable phase, and that's understanding in each of the groups - whether it's by ethnicity, by gender, regardless of how you break that down, each of those groups - there needs to be strategies and plans in place that each group can help address the situation or the statistics that they're facing."

Mr Raui's advice for people struggling with mental health was "talk, talk, talk". He said "we don't always need to look to shiny ones", adding some people's support person may be within their own whānau or family.

Source: TVNZ