A two-day leadership exchange on cross-sectoral policies for suicide prevention was hosted by the Swedish Public Health Agency and the Substance and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) from the United States at IIMHL and IIDL 2018. Dr Monique Faleafa and Denise Kingi-Uluave of Le Va and Dr Barbara Disley of Emerge Aotearoa attended the match.

Suicide is a global public health issue which has devastating effects on whanau and communities throughout the world. 

While each country has its unique approaches to reducing suicide, at IIMHL and IIDL in Stockholm this year a platform was created for leaders in the suicide prevention field to come together, share their experiences and explore ways in which cross-sectoral suicide prevention strategies can be implemented as part of the International Initiative for Mental Health Leadership (IIMHL)

New Zealand representatives Dr Barbara Disley (CEO, Emerge Aotearoa), Denise Kingi-Uluave (senior research manager, Le Va), and Dr Monique Faleafa (CEO, Le Va) joined 13 other participants from around the world at a two-day leadership exchange hosted by the Public Health Agency of Sweden and the Substance and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) of the United States. The countries represented were:

  • Sweden
  • Canada
  • New Zealand
  • Ireland
  • Finland
  • Greenland
  • United States. 

The overall theme of the leadership exchange was exploring the challenges and opportunities associated with the development and implementation of broad policies to prevent suicide, on different levels in society.

Site visits

The group visited two organisations in Stockholm: Sweden’s National Center for Suicide Research and Prevention (NASP) at the Karolinska Institute and the Psychiatric Acute Mobility Team. These visits showcased innovative examples including the following presentations:

  • Talk Today – an initiative by the Canadian Mental Health Association which focuses on youth within the Canadian hockey league and highlights the importance of educating coaches, staff etc in suicide prevention
  • SAMHSA – youth suicide prevention in the United States
  • Youth Aware of Mental Health (YAM) in Sweden – a programme which builds skills through classroom learning to promote problem solving and teach cognitive behavioural skills and is being implemented in a number of countries worldwide with positive evaluations 
  • Psychiatric Acute Mobility Team (PAM) – located at a hospital in central Stockholm, this team has a mental health ambulance specifically designed for responding to mental health crises.

Le Va representaives were honoured to be invited by the exchange organisers to present on Youth Suicide in New Zealand. Monique and Denise presented a national snapshot of youth suicide, and policy and programmes supported by the New Zealand government. They also shared the work of Le Va’s two national suicide prevention programmes: LifeKeepers national suicide prevention training programme and FLO: Pasifika for Life, including Aunty Dee, which have an emphasis on cultural considerations, holistic wellbeing and a strength-based approach.

Key themes

A number of key themes for New Zealand (and all countries) emerged from the exchange:

  • At a government level we need consistent policies that use top-down, bottom-up approaches and leverage leadership, authority and accountability and include the lived experience of those affected to implement effective, culturally appropriate suicide prevention action plans. Social inequities need to be addressed along with investment in the development of effective programmes and educational resources.
  • There is a need for stronger leadership, more connecting and sharing of information, and holistic culturally appropriate, strength-based approaches that start early in the life cycle to build skills and resilience.
  • School-based programmes can be effective in supporting young people through the use of techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy skills to acquire strategies early in life to deal with trauma and adversity.
  • Crisis services need to be responsive, caring and provide immediate access to skilled mental health support to enable effective de-escalation, assessment and intervention.

Key challenges

Some of the key challenges the group identified were:

  • increasing inequalities
  • concerns in regard to safe and responsible messaging (social media, Netflix, media reporting)
  • youth suicide.


In summary the group recommended:

There is a need for wider sharing of evaluated programmes that build on peer support, strengthen protective factors and promote community-based action. 

More needs to be done to ensure that programmes respond to those at greatest risk, that all interventions promote better outcomes for indigenous populations and for young people.

We wish to thank IIMHL New Zealand for their ongoing support in ensuring New Zealand continues to share, learn and demonstrate strong leadership in this space.

Nga mihi, ia manuia, malo ‘aupito,

Monique, Barbara and Denise