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Speaking up . . . Timaru residents and other out-of-town suicide awareness advocates gathered in Timaru last year during the Yes We Care's nationwide Shoe Project. PHOTO: GRETA YEOMAN

The announcement of an inquiry into the country’s mental health system has pleased South Canterbury mental health advocates.

Suicide Trauma Empowering Peer Support (Steps) group co-ordinator Vicki Jones said she was “really pleased” by the Government announcement last week as it was a long time coming.

“It should have been done a long time ago.”

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Ms Jones said it was a “crying shame” it would take another six months for the inquiry to be completed and then more time to see any changes, as people’s lives were at risk during that time.

“One more suicide is one too many.”

However, she hoped it would produce a positive outcome and was glad that at least the country’s mental health services were being looked at.

The inquiry would be chaired by former health and disability commissioner Prof Ron Paterson.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the details about the inquiry on Tuesday last week, which would now include a review of addiction services, as mental health and addiction were often interlinked, she said.

“We have a problem with mental health in this country and our suicide rate is shameful,” Ms Ardern said.

The decision to hold an inquiry was due to an awareness services were stretched and demand for support was growing.

More than 170,000 people had used mental health and addiction services in 2016-17, up by 71% from a decade ago, she said.

“We want to hear from service users, the wider community and the mental health sector about their experience and expectations.”Improving our mental health is something we can all play a part in.”

People’s Mental Health Review spokesman Kyle MacDonald, of ActionStation, said the inquiry was a rare opportunity for Kiwis’ voices to be heard.

“So many people struggle to access the help they need, when they need it.”

Public Service Association national president Janet Quigley, of Timaru, said the organisation had always supported the need for an inquiry.

She was also glad the review would look at mental health services in rural communities.

“Too often [they] miss out on the essential support they need.”

Ms Quigley also hoped the review would improve conditions for workers in the system, who sometimes needed the services themselves.