Mental health advocate Jazz Thornton issues strong challenge to Christopher Luxon over Suicide Prevention Office

A mental health advocate is issuing a strong challenge to the Prime Minister after the announcement of job cuts at the Ministry of Health's Suicide Prevention Office. 

Mental Health Minister Matt Doocey was blindsided by a Public Service Association (PSA) claim on Thursday the proposed cuts could result in the end of the office. 

Speaking to AM on Friday, Voices for Hope co-founder Jazz Thornton said the cuts showed the Government was putting money ahead of people. 

"Christopher Luxon, if you shut down the Suicide Prevention Office, you will be telling people that are struggling with suicidal thoughts all around this country that their lives are worth less than your tax cuts - point blank obvious, that's what you're saying," she said. 

"The Suicide Prevention Office is so important - it tells every single person that is struggling with suicide that they matter and I've had a lot to do with them in regard to identifying people that are at risk." 

Thornton said the office was dedicated to saving people's lives. 

"Right now, people are taking their lives and we need to have those kinds of offices that are aware of that and can take those steps to stop it." 

Thornton's message was backed up by the Opposition. Labour MP Willie Jackson said the proposal was "shocking". 

"It's about 'dollars, dollars, dollars,'" he told AM. 

"This is an incredibly important area and I think Matt Doocey's been doing some great work... he doesn't even know what's happening because these guys are so focused on cutting out dollars here, there and everywhere." 

Jackson said it was a "sad indictment on this Government". 

But Doocey has assured New Zealanders the office wouldn't be closing and said the PSA's claims were misleading. Doocey's claim is at odds with the Ministry of Health who has said the office's work will be integrated into the wider Ministry teams. 

Meanwhile senior minister Paul Goldsmith, appearing on AM alongside Jackson, was confident public service cuts were only being made for the right reasons. 

"As a Government, we are dealing with some real fiscal challenges left behind by the previous, very poor Government," he said. 

"We're going through a wide range of issues right across many departments. The minister responsible for mental health has made it... clear that this is an area that we will not see cut, he's sent that message through to the Director-General [of Health] and that will be our expectation. 

"We've always, as a Government, been very focused on ensuring that we actually deliver on mental health - it's not just about making announcements like Jacinda Ardern did and spending $1.9 billion and having nothing to show for it. It's about getting the work done." 

In a statement, the Ministry of Health said the proposed changes would improve efficiency and meet money-saving requirements. 

Suicide prevention remained a priority and a focus, the ministry said. 

Where to find help and support:  

  • Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737 
  • What's Up - 0800 WHATS UP (0800 942 8787) 
  • Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland 
  • Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email or online chat 
  • Samaritans - 0800 726 666 
  • Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757 
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) 
  • Shakti Community Council - 0800 742 584