Jacinda Ardern reflects on 'tragic' part of PM role during Suicide Prevention Office opening

Warning: This article discusses suicide.

Jacinda Ardern has revealed that one of the "tragic" parts of her role as Prime Minister is receiving letters from grieving parents who have lost children to suicide.

The Prime Minister made the revelation during a speech delivered at the Ministry of Health in Wellington on Wednesday for the opening of the new Suicide Prevention Office.

"I receive - sadly - countless letters of loss," Ardern told the audience. "It's not something I expected in this job, but it is something that has stood out to me."

She said she mostly receives letters from "family members, mothers and fathers who have lost children", and admitted she had read one of the letters the night before her speech.

"I'm constantly staggered that amongst all that grief and pain - grief and pain I can barely fathom - those parents take the time and still use the opportunity they have to drive for change for others.

"They provide practical solutions and insights from their own experience which sometimes defies the grief I know they must be experiencing."

A Suicide Prevention Office was announced in September as part of the Government's plan to "support people in distress" and help bring down New Zealand's high suicide rate.

New Zealand's latest suicide statistics released in August showed another annual increase. In the year to June 30, 685 people took their own lives - 17 more than the previous year.

Health Minister David Clark described the new office as a "crucial part" of the Wellbeing Budget's record billion-dollar investment in mental health and addiction, which included $40 million on suicide prevention.

Dr Clark and Ardern also announced on Wednesday a $12 million Māori and Pacific suicide prevention community fund to be used over the next four years to support suicide prevention initiatives.

Establishing a Suicide Prevention Office was one of 40 recommendations from the Government's Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction, first announced by Dr Clark in January 2018.

The inquiry found that the annual cost of serious mental illness, including addiction, is an estimated $12 billion in New Zealand.

It also highlighted the need to improve "inadequate environments" that reflect the "poor cousin" status of mental health and addiction within District Health Boards (DHBs).

Ardern told reporters she's visited services across New Zealand, and has listened to concerns about "lack of natural light" and lack of spaces where whanau can visit their family members.

"All the things you would expect for recovery and in some of those older services just don't exist... It is time that we acknowledge that and invest in services."

The Suicide Prevention Office will be established as part of the Government's Suicide Prevention Strategy 2019-2029 and Action Plan 2019-2024.

It will initially be a unit within the Ministry of Health's Mental Health and Addiction Directorate and will eventually become a stand alone department. It is led by director Carla na Nagara.

She told those gathered at the opening that the new office "represents a shared commitment to lowering our nation's suicide rate that's been referred to as 'shameful' and I don't think that's an exaggeration at all".

Ardern is continuing to push back on the prospect of setting a suicide reduction target because she believes there should be zero tolerance for suicide.

"I think for us it's just a moral question: will anyone ever be satisfied with anyone losing their lives in our communities? And the answer is no," she told reporters.

"I really push back on the idea that the only way we're ever going to know if we're successful is if we set in place an arbitrary target."

Dr Clark said the advice he receives on suicide prevention is "that this is complex and hard".

"We have to accept that we're not going to get to zero suicides overnight... we need to have zero tolerance for suicide."

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