By Ricky Matthew
(This article discusses suicide and mental health.)
AUCKLAND – The Filipino suicide figure doubled in 2021, despite overall suicide numbers falling since 2017. This led to a hastily organised response from communities and agencies late last year to raise awareness of the disturbing suicide statistics and to take a closer look at the wrap around services that are currently available.
Information obtained recently by Migrant News from the Ministry of Justice reveals that Filipino suicides rose in 2020/2021 to six, up from three in 19/20, a doubling of the figure. The figure then eased back to four in 21/22. Comparatively, in 21/22 there were 8 Indian suicides, 7 Fijian Indian suicides and 5 Chinese suicides.
Asians made up 32 of the 538 New Zealanders lost to suicide in the 21/22 financial year, with a rate of 3.8 per 100,000 Asians in NZ. This is relatively low compared to Māori (15.9 per 100,000), European (10.1 per 100,000) and Pacific (9.9 per 100,000).
However, Filipinos surpassed their Asian counterparts with a suicide rate of approximately 5 per 100,000 Filipinos in 21/22 (based on the census figures).
So, what is the reason we are unable to stamp out suicide and depression in the Filipino community? Loneliness? Lack of wrap around services? Or lack of funding?
According to the New Zealand Asian Wellbeing and Mental Health Report 2021, Filipinos have the highest level of satisfaction with life in NZ among the Asian ethnicities surveyed (97%). They also have the highest level of feeling that life is worthwhile in NZ (91%). But on the flip side, Filipinos are third most at risk of depression (after Koreans and Indians), are more likely to express stigma from mental illness around being less worthy, have difficulties in accessing language and/or cultural support and are more likely to feel stigma and low confidence in the mainstream mental health and addiction services.
The alarming rates within the Filipino community led to a community and agencies’ response with a Hui on the 19th of November 2022 at Three Kings, Auckland. The objective of the Hui was to create awareness of the alarming rates of suicide in the Filipino community and the wider community.
Guest speakers at the Suicide Awareness and Prevention Hui included: Dr Geraldine Anne Lobo, child and adolescent psychiatrist, Jordyn Johnston, suicide prevention postvention coordinator and guests from the Mental Health Foundation, Youth Line, New Zealand Police, the Ministry of Health and Filipinos working in mental health.
Speakers at the event informed the community about the warning signs of people at risk of committing suicide, the impacts of suicide on families and highlighted the services and professional help that are available.
When the late Father Mario Dorado, a Capuchin Friar, was asked his views about the Filipino community organised Hui he said: “It is a beginning. Whatever families are going through, we must let them know that they are not alone.”
To elaborate on this point, in the 21/22 financial year an estimated 72,630 people have been affected by the 538 suicides. This includes the families of those who took their own life.
“We are always here to help as much as possible and we are trying our very best to prevent this kind of thing from happening,” added Father Mario.
He drew attention to the fact that: “We are not in New Zealand just to make money or to work, but also to be happy and to have peace; that is our purpose in life.”
Another speaker at the Hui, Constable Ding Capunitan, 55, of the NZ Police, agreed. “My advice is for us to be aware of what’s happening in our community and to watch out for signs of depression amongst our family and our friends. This is not only happening to Filipinos, but to everyone in New Zealand. If we don’t try to help these people, then things might end tragically.
“If you know of anyone who is depressed or very worried and anxious, please report their plight right away to the Police. If not the Police, then you can refer them to other agencies that can help them.
“When you report to the Police, we visit them and talk to them and refer them to agencies or mental health services – even if the person is just thinking about suicide.”
According to the Ministry of Health, some of the risk factors associated with suicide are bereavement by suicide, access to means of suicide, a sense of isolation, a history of mental illness, addiction or problematic substance abuse, previous suicide attempts, experience of trauma and exposure to bullying.
Matthew Tukaki, the Director of the Suicide Prevention Office elaborates further: “There are a few signs to watch out for if you’re worried about a member of your whānau or a friend. You might have noticed changes in their behaviour, sleeping patterns or mood. They might have started to withdraw socially or stay home from work or school. Their eating may have changed or they’ve stopped eating completely. Often they start talking about wanting to die or a plan to kill themselves or are reading or posting online about death and they may start to give away things with personal meaning to them.aking our way to the Rila Mountains, where we were visiting the Rila Monastery where we enjoyed scrambled eggs, toast, mekitsi, local jam and peppermint tea.
“If you think that someone might be at risk of suicide, trust your instincts and ask them directly if they’re okay. It could save their life. Listen to them without judgement or distraction and then help them find support.
“There are a number of services that can help, including: Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or Youthline – 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email email@example.com
“If you think they’re in immediate physical danger to themselves or others, call 111.”
Victim Support is the go-to place for the following: help with support for emotional issues, safety, information and advice, dealing with the justice system, financial issues, advocacy, or referral to specialist agencies. Phone 0800 842 846, 24/7.
Some other services that provide support to those who are at risk of suicide or who have lost a loved one to suicide are:
1737 – free text 1737 to talk to a trained counsellor or peer support person 24/7.
Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999, (within Auckland) free helpline service, 24/7.
Suicide Crisis Line – 0508 828 865 (0800 TAUTOKO).
Victim Support 24 Hour Contact Service – 0800 842 846 for an immediate call out.
Youthline – helpline for Kiwis aged between 12-24 years. Free call 0800 376 633. You can also text 243 to chat.
Kenzie’s Gift – supports the mental health of tamariki and has grief and loss resources for children.
Adhikaar – rainbow support for the South Asian community.