Empty shoes demonstrate shocking suicide stats

By Lynette Amoroa

Parents of children who died by suicide have criticised the Government for refusing to hold an independent inquiry into mental health and suicide despite strong nationwide support.

Now, they're taking hundreds of empty pair of shoes to parliament to symbolise every person who died from suicide in the last year in hope of change in Government policy.

Gumboots, heels and jandals represent the number of people who took their lives in 2016-17, bereaved families are using the image to symbolise suicide in New Zealand.

Figures released by Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall this week show the numbers reaching crisis point, 606 up from 579 in 2016.

Māori suicide deaths have risen from 129 to 130 for this year.  

Jane Stevens [Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Porou] a bereaved mother who lost her son to suicide in 2015, after he went missing from a mental health inpatient unit while unsupervised.

Now she’s taking part in a campaign run by the ‘Yes We Care’ group which is trying to shed light on the issue by taking the shoe project around the country.

“When you look at it in comparison with the road toll we are talking more than double and that's just the recorded statistics,” says Mrs Stevens.

She and a group of bereaved parents are calling on the Government for an independent inquiry into New Zealand’s mental health crisis and to restore $2.3b in health funding.

“If it is acceptable that this many people die then they all need to resign immediately, because as far as I'm concerned the only acceptable number is zero.” says Stevens.

She also says the local community support has been huge, “We've had to really battle an attitude that says everything is fine, and yet everybody says that it is not!

And that's certainly been reinforced by whanau here who are incredibly bravely telling their stories, most of them for the first time.”

The Life Matters Prevention Trust delivered a petition to Government earlier this year calling for an independent inquiry.

The majority of political parties are in support of their call.

But its only one of six political pledges bereaved families asked parties to support on 1 August 2017.

The pledges were crowd-sourced by the coalition with the support of more than 200 bereaved families. 

According to YesWeCare.nz coordinator Simon Oosterman.

The pledges are:

Hold a mental health inquiry
Restore $2.3b in health funding
Set a suicide reduction target
Increase primary health, GP funding (for early intervention)
Commit to safe staffing
Make every home healthy

The petition will also call on Party Leaders and health spokespeople to meet families face-to-face on September 11 in Wellington on the first day of advanced voting.