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Recently I caught up with my Youth MP Katelyn Twiss who represented Selwyn at the Youth Parliament in Wellington during the July school holidays. Like many people living in Selwyn, Katelyn has lost a friend to suicide and she chose to focus on mental health as the topic of her speech in the House of Representatives.

Sadly Selwyn is reflective of the rest of New Zealand where we have communities reeling from the high number of people taking their own lives. Provisional statistics released by the Chief Coroner recently indicate that New Zealand’s suicide rate has hit the highest level since records began with 685 deaths in the past year. Particularly concerning is the dramatic increase in the number of young people dying by suicide as well as the increasing rates amongst our Maori and Pacific Island communities. Mental health in our rural communities is also under pressure and this worries me greatly.

While the Government has held an inquiry into mental health it is unfortunate that it chose to abandon the 17 mental health initiatives that formed the previous National-led Government’s $100 million mental health package. It is clear that doing the same thing we have been doing for many years is not working so we need more tools in our toolkit to address this crisis.

While the Government allocated a large amount of money to mental health in this year’s Budget, its full mental health package will not be fully implemented for five years. In the meantime more and more people have been struggling to access mental health and addiction services. Furthermore, there is a very real problem in sourcing the workforce needed to staff the specialist services being called for, which may make it difficult for the Government to actually spend the funds that have been allocated to mental health.

One positive development is the formation of a new cross-party Action Group on mental health and addiction which contains representatives from each of the five parties currently in Parliament. Waimakariri MP and Opposition spokesperson for mental health Matt Doocey is the National Party’s representative on this group.

I know that members of the public sometimes get frustrated with the adversarial nature of our political system so I believe this cross-party group will be a welcome initiative. Let us hope for the sake of our young people, our friends and our colleagues that this initiative will make a difference and we will see a turning of the tide on those horrific statistics.

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