Tuesday, November 06, 2012

NZ - Peter Dunne and the Suicide Tweets

Which of the following statements are correct?

"Talking about suicide can lead to copycat suicides and/or contagion."


"We will make progress in dealing with suicide when we have the courage to talk openly..."

Bizarrely, both come from the same person, both within the space of a year or so.

Worryingly, this person, Peter Dunne, is a New Zealand Associate Minister of Health. One of Dunne's roles is that he is Minister of Suicide Prevention. His apparent change of allegiance would come as no surprise to your average Kiwi. In 1995 Dunne left the Labour party to form an allegiance with Future NZ, less than a year later he deflected to United NZ, now known as United Future.

The second statement [below] was tweeted on Nov 3 by Peter Dunne, some of his 1,500 or so followers seemed to think that Dunne had tweeted "We will make progress in dealing with suicide when we have the courage to talk openly..." regarding a recent death in New Zealand. Dunne's Twitter account can be found @PeterDunneMP

Fig 1

Greg King, a prominent defence lawyer was found dead on Nov 3 close to his car. Speculation suggests that the 42 year old took his own life, speculation that has been created by some of the media out here in New Zealand.

Current law prohibits the media from reporting that a death may be a suicide prior to a coroners verdict, particularly for individual cases such as the mystery surrounding the death of Greg King. The Minister has the power to impose a $5,000 fine against the newspapers who have reported King's death as a "suspected suicide."

I decided to try and decipher why Dunne had seemingly changed his approach to suicide and, between us, we sent one another a series of tweets that, I have to say have left me bamboozled.

A series of screen clips, part one above, were taken of our conversation that, it's fair to say, either show Dunne blatantly lying or showing that he is suffering from a mild form of amnesia.

You see, In 2010, after a request was made by the New Zealand Prime Minister, John Key, for the Ministry's guidelines on suicide reporting and the restrictions in the Coroner's Act to be reviewed, a working party headed by Peter Dunne concluded that talking about suicide could still lead to copycat suicides and/or contagion. 

As Fig 1 shows, Dunne had failed to answer if he had told the Prime Minister that no review was needed. This prompted me, some hours later, to further push Dunne for an answer [Fig 2]

Fig 2

Here we see Dunne tell not only me but his 1,500 or so followers that he cannot recall ever telling the NZ Prime Minister that no review was needed.

One would think that a minister in charge of preventing suicide would be able to recall certain events during committee meetings. In fact Dunne, as you can see from his last tweet to me, is 'clear'.

I'd just like to jog his memory a little.

In 2010 the Ministerial Committee on Suicide Prevention convened to review the restrictions on the media reporting of suicide, the results of their review were then reported to the New Zealand Prime Minister.

The full review can be downloaded here, I've included some snippets from it for the benefit of Mr Dunne's momentary lapse of memory. [3] [4]

Fig 3

Fig 4

Remember, this review of legislation was asked for by the NZ PM.

This suggests that the Ministerial Committee on Suicide Prevention, incidently, headed by Peter Dunne, were reporting to the PM that media reporting of suicide can influence copycat suicide and normalise suicide as an appropriate response to life stress. It's also 'clear' to me that Dunne wasn't being very 'clear' at all to me or his followers.

Dunne is no stranger to controversy when it comes to matters relating to the prevention of suicide in New Zealand. The 2011 Working Party's findings on reporting suicide are, it appears, a testament that shows how a government wish to control journalists and the media in the reporting of suicides in New Zealand.

The 13 page draft offers no evidence via reference or footnotes to back up the Working Party claims, an issue that a number of people who made submissions to the draft questioned. 

Dunne was advised by the Ministry of Health that an appendix should be added to the guidelines citing the research on which they are based. Dunne ignored this call and when questioned why by co-founder of CASPER [Community Action on Suicide Prevention Education & Research], Maria Bradshaw, he told her, in essence, that the guidelines were for the media and seeing how they had not pushed for evidence to back up the claims of the Working Party he saw no reason to provide such evidence. [Fig 5] 

Fig 5

There is something seriously wrong with the suicide problem in New Zealand, moreover there is something seriously wrong with the way it is being handled by politicians. NZ has double the rate of youth suicide of the USA and Australia so what do they do about it?

Earlier this year, in their infinite wisdom, the NZ government decided to throw $62million into the mental health system to tackle the ever-increasing numbers of suicide, missing the fact that there is a link between suicide and antidepressant use.

Dunne, one can only assume, dismisses the link between antidepressants and suicide. In September, this year, he gave an address to the ARC Group's Conference 'Transformational Change in Mental Health – A Leadership Summit'.

Again, without adding any scientific proof, Dunne addressed the audience with:

"Research tells us one in five people experience a diagnosable mental health or addiction issue over any 12-month period.

"We also know that young people, and Māori and Pacific people, experience these issues in higher numbers than other groups."

So, is Dunne actually saying that Māori and Pacific people are more crazy than white people [Pākehā] or they experience more addiction than white people?

Either way it's kind of ignorant to suggest that one race of people are either more prone to addiction or are more crazy, don't you think? Apparently, data suggests that they do, which, personally, I find staggering and, more than likely, flawed.

Dunne also spoke at the NZ Healthcare Summit 2012 on 3rd & 4th of October at the Aotea Convention Centre, Auckland, an event that was in partnership with pharmaceutical giants Johnson & Johnson.

Whilst on the subject of addressing the masses, in April this year Peter Dunne delivered a speech to the Mental Health Foundation, it's hard to tell, by the written word, if Dunne uttered the following with tongue in cheek, "As parents, we can find it hard to tell the difference between normal teenage behaviour and mild to moderate mental illness. Some would argue, as I believe Nigel Latta did in one of his television shows, that being a teenager is by definition a special form of insanity!"

In June 2010, he addressed the Suicide Prevention forum, to mark World Suicide Prevention Day where he stated that, "Between 70 and 90 percent of people who make serious suicide attempts or who die by suicide have a recognised mental health problem at the time." The event was hosted by SPINZ, an aptly named suicide prevention organisation funded by the NZ government.

New Zealand psychiatry, I was shocked to learn, leans toward racism with some of its views on Māori mental illness.

John Read, a Senior Lecturer, University of Auckland, found that over 60% of senior male psychiatrists born in NZ believe Maori are genetically pre-disposed to madness. No surprise then that the following two comments were sent back to Read after he had sent a series of questionnaires out to NZ psychiatrists.

"I wish Masters students would stop sending me crap studies like this, about pointless, meaningless, cultural rubbish. They (Maori) only represent about 10 per cent of the population, for God’s sake."


"This questionnaire is worthless! I mean the Maoris are always going on about the importance of land etc. etc. so why did they bloody well give it away. They went on about the importance of forestries and lakes and then that bloody idiot cut down the tree on One Tree Hill. I feel that they are getting the appropriate services they need, just not using them, medication is the answer – but they just don’t take their pills – if cannabis was prescribed, I’d bet they’d bloody take that."

Dunne, and any other politician who sides with the mental health approach, should take a look at John Read's findings, maybe then they wouldn't be so hell-bent on referring this population to mental health.

In a separate issue, on the 25th of September this year I wrote and requested the following information from Dr Murray Patton, Clinical Director the Waitemata District Health Board (WDHB). I became concerned when a previous request, not asked for by me, came into my hands. A a concerned mother, who lost her son to suicide under the care of Waitemata DHB, wrote to CASPER. An official information act [OIA] request had been sent to Waitemata District Health Board whom were asked for the number of clients who died by suicide whilst under the care of Waitemata DHB's Mental Health Services between 2007 and 2010 and the numbers of those who had been prescribed medication.

The results were shocking but were seemingly played down by WDHB with choice comments such as "The 2010 suicide rate was 23.6% below the peak rate in 1998" - What WDHB did here was find a year that was higher and used it to play down the 2010 suicide statistics.

Here's the answer to the OIA, which remember asked for the number of clients who died by suicide whilst under the care of Waitemata DHB's Mental Health Services between 2007 and 2010 and the numbers of those who had been prescribed medication. 

My request was simple but it is yet to be answered, despite numerous emails to Dr Murray Patton. Here's the request:

Dear Murray

I am writing under the official information act to request the following information on WDHB patients who died from suicide between 1 Jan 2007 and 31 Dec 2010

  • numbers of patients under the care of WDHB died from suicide while having a current or recent (within 6 months) prescription for medication 
  • those patients for whom an adverse reaction report was filed with CARM by WDHB staff and those where no report was filed
  • ingredient and trade name of the drug(s) prescribed to the deceased
  • WDHB unit under which the patient received services
  • diagnosis of the patient at time of death
  • age and ethnicity of patient

It would appear that the NZ government and the mental health approach is plainly not working. With an increase of 46% in the numbers of youth suicides in the past 12 months in NZ, and increase of 76% in Maori Youth suicides in that time, it would also appear that Dunne, SPINZ and the NZ Prime Minister are all over the place when it comes to preventing suicide in New Zealand. This is not a complex issue, it's pretty straight forward and would just require John Key an hour or so of his time.

Dunne's final word on our tweeting conversations yesterday is typical of your average politician, "You have my answer - it's clear, I have nothing more to add."

Well, Mr Dunne, you may wish to control what people wish to say on your Twitter account but this is my blog and it's good to have the space and freedom for a right of reply without an authoritarian politician telling me what I can and can't ask.

Yesterday NZ Labor Minister Kate Wilkinson announced her resignation shortly after the publication of the report from the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine tragedy. For those who don't know about that particular tragedy you can read more here.

In a statement Wilkinson said:

"The Pike River Mine tragedy of Nov. 19, 2010 happened on my watch as Minister of Labor." She added that her resignation was "the right and honorable thing to do."

How many suicides have occurred on Peter Dunne's watch? Well, a lot more than the 29 who died at the Pike River Mine.

Under Peter Dunne's watch  over 2,000 suicides have been reported by the Chief Coroner, Judge Neil MacLean. That's more deaths by suicide than Peter Dunne has following him on Twitter!

CASPER has, I believe, a better approach to suicide prevention. It's co-founder, Maria Bradshaw, requested to meet with Peter Dunne, the request was never granted. The offer, as I understand still stands although I suspect Peter Dunne will be too busy giving talks about a mental health approach that just isn't working or tweeting [with amnesia] to his followers.

Dunne also blocked Maria Bradshaw from his Facebook page after she dared bring him to task about his approach to suicide prevention. There was no profanity just questions.

Way to go Pete!

CASPER can be contacted via their website here, their Facebook page here or on their freephone number, 0508 CASPER