Minister "committed" to keeping Suicide Prevention Office open following backlash to proposed Ministry of Health cuts

Mental Health Minister Matt Doocey has told a Rural Health Conference he is committed to keeping the Suicide Prevention Office open after he was caught off guard by a ministry proposal to close the office, disestablish a number of roles and subsume the function of the office into a broader team.

The proposed closure of the office was the first topic raised with Doocey during a Q and A session following his speech opening the conference this morning.

Doocey, the country’s first ever Mental Health Minister, was caught unaware by the proposal and maintains that his understanding is that the office is not to be closed.

"Its not my understanding of what the ministry has proposed I was never briefed about that,” he said.

"I rung up Di Sarfati the Director General of Health and made it very clear my expectation of that Suicide Prevention Office remains open and that’s what I’m committed to doing."

The ministry yesterday released a statement confirming the disestablishment of the Director of the office along with two other roles, while the remaining two would be absorbed into the wider Community Clinical and Mental Health team.

The minister reiterated that the restructure unveiled by the ministry yesterday was at this stage just a proposal.

"That’s what yesterday was. A proposal. And you can see how I responded to that proposal pretty quickly. They are proposals at the moment," he said.

"Let’s be very clear the Suicide Prevention Office will remain open."

His commitment comes as prominent mental health advocate Jazz Thornton issued a direct challenge to the government on AM on Friday morning.

"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.

Doocey said the government is committed to making mental health a priority.

"Mental health and suicide prevention is a priority for this government. In this role I meet a number of people who have either attempted suicide themselves or parents and family members who have been bereaved by suicide I think its important that I meet these people and hear their stories and its clearly an issue in New Zealand we’ve go to do a lot better at," he said.

"We are due to review the suicide action plan and my intent is actually to put more into that plan not less."

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