New suicide prevention director: ‘This effort needs all of us’

Media release

10 October 2019

Work targeted at reducing New Zealand’s historically high suicide rates takes another step forward with the appointment of Carla na Nagara to lead the establishment of the Suicide Prevention Office.

The Government announced the establishment of the Suicide Prevention Office in September, tasked with coordinating action already underway to reduce New Zealand’s historically high rate of suicide. In 2016, 553 people died by suicide in Aotearoa.

Today’s announcement by Deputy Director-General Mental Health and Addiction, Robyn Shearer confirms Carla na Nagara as Director of the Suicide Prevention Office. Ms na Nagara has significant experience in dealing with suicide having worked as a Coroner for the past 12 years.

Ms na Nagara will formally start in this role on 21 October. The role is initially for two years during which the Suicide Prevention Office will be housed and supported by the Ministry of Health. The intention is that it will become a stand-alone Office in coming years.

‘This is an important appointment in gaining traction in suicide prevention. Carla na Nagara will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the Office. Her appointment means we are continuing to build momentum in this critical area and focusing on saving lives,’ says Ms Shearer.

Ms na Nagara says, ‘Through my work as a coroner, I’ve seen that suicide is not always the result of a mental health problem or a simple moment of distress. To be understood it needs to be seen in the wider context of a person’s life.

‘Like so many other New Zealanders, I’ve also felt the effects of suicide on my own community. I know we need to do more.’

Every Life Matters – The Suicide Prevention Strategy 2019–2029 and Action Plan 2019–2024 provides a clear focus for the range of on the ground initiatives that it will take to reduce the number of New Zealanders taking their own life.

‘At the heart of Every Life Matters is achieving a future where there is no suicide in New Zealand. There are no quick fixes,’ says Ms na Nagara.

‘It’s going to take all of us working together to make a difference. The wider health and social systems need to be integrated and working closely with individuals, whānau and communities and better supporting people bereaved by suicide.

‘We need a strong system that supports wellbeing. That starts in our homes, schools, sports clubs and communities. Every New Zealander has a role to play in contributing to suicide prevention. The answers are not going to be just in delivering more services, although that will be part of it.

‘Every Life Matters is focused on achieving equity for all lives. In particular we need to focus on achieving equity for Māori and other population groups that experience disproportionately higher rates of suicide, including youth, males and people who use mental health and addition services.’

The establishment of the Suicide Prevention Office is part of a wider plan to improve all aspects of mental health and wellbeing for people in New Zealand. Lived experience and Māori advisory functions will also be established to work with the Office.

The Ministry of Health is putting into action the Government’s response to He Ara Oranga, the report from the Government Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction, which calls for a system transformation. We need a mental health and wellbeing system that places people at the centre, improves equity and expands access and choice.

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