Government's 'postvention' suicide bereavement counselling set to support friends and whānau

Jimmy Keen had a brilliant acting career ahead of him, starring in movies including In My Father's Den and Broken Hallelujah, a film about suicide.

Eight years ago, two weeks after turning 21, Jimmy took his own life.

"There's not one day that goes past where you don't think about them," says his mother, Hillary Keen.

Hillary searched everywhere for support.

"Someone would say, 'ring somebody else', and they'd say, 'ring somebody else'... you just didn't get any answers, or help, anywhere," she says.

Hillary is not the only one. Labour MP Kiri Allan lost her niece last year. 

"The loss of our neice will have impacts for lifetimes, if not generations," says Allan.

Everyone is searching for answers. 

"There is a lot of guilt associated for every family member, asking if we could have done more," Allan told Newshub.

"We know that those who are bereaved by suicide are likely to be more at risk than others in the community," Health Minister David Clark said at Tuesday's press conference.

However, "postvention" care for those who have lost friends or whānau to suicide has not been recognised in previous prevention strategies.

The Government has now funded suicide bereaved counselling, with 2,500 New Zealanders eligible for four free sessions each. 

"This is fantastic, it has been a long time coming... it's very, very needed," says Hillary Keen.

A strategy for Māori is needed just as badly.

"Māori and all New Zealanders should be really disappointed in this strategy," says NZ Māori Council Auckland District Chairman, Matthew Tukaki.

"This is not a strategy."

Mental health advocate and comedian Mike King walked away from the last Government strategy because of the lack of a suicide reduction target. Now, he's happy with this Government's target of zero.  

"I'm absolutely fine with there being no target... If there are 700 people in a burning building, go and save 20 percent of them, walk out and tell me you're happy with the 20 percent. I am never going to be happy," King said at Tuesday's announcement.

"The target should always be zero." 

"If this plan saves one life this week and one life next week, it will have been worth doing. Every life matters," says Clark.

However, King said he "is over" people saying "if we can save one life, it's all worth it".

"If we're not saving them all, we are failing. We need to do better," King reiterated.

With 685 people dying by suicide this year, New Zealand cannot afford to keep failing. 

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