'Mental health system only works for the wealthy or dying' - advocate

Our mental health system needs urgent funding to combat New Zealand’s shocking suicide statistics, a mental health advocate has claimed ahead of Mental Health Awareness week.

After 14 suicide attempts and a long battle with mental illness, 23-year-old film director Jazz Thornton co-founded advocacy group Voices of Hope to help others going through similar struggles.

"The current system isn't working because unless you are very wealthy or on your deathbed there is nothing available to you. If you say 'I am feeling suicidal,' they will say, 'Come back when you've tried to kill yourself," she told Newshub Nation on Saturday.

Ms Thornton has made a submission to the Government's mental health and addiction inquiry calling for funding, especially in mental health wards and respite centres.

"There's usually 12 beds available within certain wards across Auckland. And so people who are high-end suicidal are... going against people who are high-end schizophrenic.

"There's very minimal space for you to go in... At the moment people are going into the hospital for maybe, like, a day or two and then because of the pressing issue, they're getting kicked out. It's kind of like a one-in, one-out kind of thing."

Earlier this year the Government announced a $10.5 million pilot programme offering free counselling services for 18-25 year-olds.

Ms Thornton was supportive of the programme, but said the current mental health support system is an 'ambulance at the bottom of the cliff'.

"It's something we have to act on fast, or our statistics will continue to rise."

Annual provisional suicide statistics released by the chief coroner in August show 668 people died by suicide in the 2017/18 year.

New Zealand's suicide rate - the number of suicides per 100,000 population - is at the highest level since records began in 2007. It's  increased four years in a row.

Ms Thornton is the director of short film Dear Suicidal Me, which has been viewed over 80 million times online.

The film involves people, who had previously attempted suicide, reading their suicide notes.

"I got four people to read their suicide notes from when they had tried to take their life and then I got everyone to write a letter called 'Dear Suicidal Me', which was so hope-filled."

Ms Thornton says such a confronting approach was important to help the film connect with people dealing with mental health issues.

"So people who were struggling identified with that first part and were like, 'Okay that's exactly how I'm feeling.'

"Then they saw the second part with people saying, 'Dear suicidal me: I know it feels like right now you can't do it but what you don't know is that you're about to become an award-winning songwriter, you're about to become a father, you're about to travel the world.'"

Ms Thornton says connecting people to their future selves and reminding them of future possibilities is crucial when helping them through mental health difficulties.  

"It's impossible to fight for your life when you don't know what you're fighting for."

Ms Thornton is currently directing a web series The Silence Project based on suicide that will air in March 2019, and will speak at TedX Auckland next weekend.

Where to find help and support:

  • Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737
  • Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
  • Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email talk@youthline.co.nz or online chat
  • Samaritans - 0800 726 666
  • Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

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