FYI, here is my letter to the Minister of Health concerning his ministry’s latest report on suicide, due for public release on 24 May no doubt with Peter Dunne crowing about the achievement. It’s a serious indictment on the NZ government concerning its prioritization of women and neglect of men even in this area that harms mainly men.
MINISTRY OF MEN’S AFFAIRS
MINITATANGA MO NGA TANE
PO Box 13130
Phone (07)5712435 or (0274)799745
19 May 2012
Hon Tony Ryall
Minister of Health
Private Bag 18041
Re: Ministry of Health Publication “Suicide Facts: Deaths and intentional self-harm hospitalisations 2009′ and accompanying “Communication Notes for Release”¦’
We believe men should be seriously disturbed by the amount of obfuscation in both documents of the extent to which suicide is primarily a male health issue in NZ.
Although the main publication “Suicide Facts”¦’ states the basic fact that almost 4 times as many men as women were recorded as committing suicide in 2009, it does not go on to give this statistic the attention or priority it deserves. Instead, it seems deliberately to lose this statistic in a morass of other figures and inconsistent methods of comparison, and to portray suicide as an issue of equal or greater concern for groups other than men.
Inconsistent Statistics and Comparisons
Throughout both documents statistics are reported in ways that make it difficult to see that the difference between male and female suicide rates is several orders greater than differences between any of the other groups measured.
In the “Suicide Facts”¦’ document the male:female suicide ratio is mentioned a few times as 3.6:1 but none of the other suicide comparisons are provided in that ratio format, meaning that a reader is not made aware that the gender ratio is much higher than ratios between any other groups.
The “Suicide Facts”¦’ document went on to report (e.g.):
“”¦the male youth suicide rate was more than four times higher than the comparable female rate” (page 7)
“”¦suicide accounted for almost one-third of all deaths in males aged 15-19, 20-24 and 30-34.” (page 9)
“More than one-fifth of all deaths of females aged 10-14 and 25-29 were due to suicide.” (page 9)
“”¦there was a significant difference between male and female rates in all five-year age groups from 15 to 59 years, with the exception of those aged 25-29.” (page 10)
“”¦suicide death rate for Maori”¦was 23 percent higher than for non-Maori”¦” (page 19)
“”¦suicide for Maori males was 19.3 deaths per 100,000 population in 2009, compared with 17.3 for non-Maori males.” (page 19)
“Maori females showed a higher rate of suicide than non-Maori females in 2009″¦” (page 19)
“”¦the suicide rate for the most deprived areas was almost 90 percent higher than it was for the least deprived areas.” (page 24)
“”¦five DHB areas”¦had significantly higher average suicide rates than the total New Zealand rate” (page 26)
This mish-mash of methods for comparing the various groups served to hide the most significant finding that men as a group are by far at highest risk of suicide. For example, the Maori rate is said to be 23% higher than the non-Maori rate but using the same method of comparison the male rate is 360% higher than the female rate, yet this high figure is avoided. Similarly, the Maori:non-Maori ratio would be only 1.2:1 but that form of comparison is avoided because it would look so trivial alongside the male:female ratio.
The Ministry of Men’s Affairs believes these inconsistent methods of comparison represented an intentional ploy on the part of the Ministry of Health to convey the idea that women, Maori, high deprivation populations etc have at least as much need of attention regarding suicide prevention as do men.
The “Communication Notes’ carry this ploy to even greater depths of misrepresentation. The document completely fails to mention the 3.6:1 ratio, i.e. that suicide kills males almost 4 times as much as it does females, yet does see fit to repeat the 1.7:1 ratio for female to male self-harm hospitalisations! The document simply states “There continues to be a distinct gender difference in suicide and self-harm rates”¦” as though the two measures are somehow of equal significance.
The inclusion of “Intentional self-harm hospitalisations’ is another major source of obfuscation. “Suicide Facts”¦’ states in its Preface and elsewhere:
“It is important to recognize that the motivation for intentional self-harm varies, and therefore hospitalisation data for self-harm is not a measure of suicide attempts.”
Any clinician who deals with suicide will know this, and that the higher rates of self-harm incidents among women will largely be due to the predominance of women with Borderline Personality Disorder and other conditions and fashions that involve self-cutting or manipulative self-harm threats and gestures. Given the fact that self-harm incidents are not a measure of suicide attempts and that their relationship to suicide is unclear, why include this at all in a document called “Suicide Facts’? The Ministry of Men’s Affairs believes this inclusion was a deliberate strategy designed to detract from the truth about suicide by adding a loosely related measure known to show females as predominantly the victims, thereby implying that women are as deserving as men of intervention resources regarding suicide.
The “Communication Notes for Release’ highlights the self-harm figures but fails to include any warning against viewing them as a measure of suicide attempts. This omission in a document provided to guide health professionals and others in communicating with the broader public suggests that the Ministry of Health wants the public to be misled.
Other Methods of Avoiding the Truth about Suicide
In the “Communication Notes’ document each mention of a higher rate for males is immediately followed with some statement suggesting female rates were somehow comparable. Further, the document states “Deprivation is a significant factor in suicide”¦” but nowhere refers to male gender as a “significant factor’, much less that being male is by far more significant than any of the other factors. Nowhere in the document is there any suggestion that any priority need be given to men when thinking about suicide. The document refers to the “youth suicide rate’ as being too high and states that the government will continue to support relevant services for youth, (when in fact the rate of suicides for under 20s is actually lower than the average for older age groups) but nothing at all is said about male suicide per se or the need for male-targeted interventions.
NZ Suicide Prevention Strategy
This strategy is another initiative by the Ministry of Health, intended to be in place until 2016. As made clear in the attached essay (below), the NZ Suicide Prevention Strategy follows the same pattern of denial and neglect towards men, incredibly claiming that suicide is not a gender issue and steadfastly refusing to acknowledge that males deserve to be prioritised in any way when it comes to suicide prevention.
Taken together, these responses to suicide stand as a grave indictment on the NZ government concerning its disregard for men’s welfare.
The Ministry of Men’s Affairs accuses the Ministry of Health and the New Zealand government of neglecting the most significant victims of suicide and deplores this form of discrimination against men. Because of such neglect little research has been undertaken to understand why men specifically are killing themselves in such large numbers in NZ and little male-appropriate help has been provided to reduce men’s suicidality.
The NZ government’s approach to suicide can be contrasted with its approach to partner violence. A similar gender ratio to that for suicides pertains to both homicides and serious injuries caused by heterosexual intimate partners, but in the opposite gender direction. Yet the NZ government treats partner violence as a problem almost exclusively harming women and its responses are based on that formulation. Through several institutions it funds the White Ribbon Campaign urging the population to be against violence towards women as though violence towards men is not worthy of concern, while laws, reports and public statements overwhelmingly focus on partner violence as a problem harming women. However, when it comes to a problem harming men more than women, the NZ government seeks to avoid any priority or special focus at all on the main victims. This is blatant sexism.
The Ministry of Men’s Affairs urges the Ministry of Health and the NZ government to stop discriminating against men in its responses to the problem of suicide.
The Ministry of Men’s Affairs is a community initiative that unfortunately is necessary because successive NZ governments including yours have failed to represent men and instead practise and promote misandry, exploitation, denigration and neglect of men.
Hon Peter Dunne, Associate Minister of Health
Maryan Street MP, Labour Spokesperson on Health
Kevin Hague MP, Greens Spokesperson on Health
Barbara Stewart MP, NZ First Spokesperson on Health
Tariana Turia MP, Maori Party Spokesperson on Health
Hone Harawira MP, Mana Party