15 Aug 2016

How should primary schools deal with suicide?

From Nine To Noon, 9:22 am on 15 August 2016

A school's decision to stop a 10-year-old boy from giving a speech about suicide was the correct one, the Mental Health Foundation says.

Luka Sakamoto-Aish chose the topic for his school's speech competition because a friend had taken his own life. 

The school decided he could deliver his speech to teachers, but not to students.

RNZ's Insight programme recently looked at the issue of New Zealand's suicide rates and shortly after that, 10 year old Lukah Sakamoto-Aish got in touch.

He told Nine to Noon his friend's death left him feeling sad and confused. 

"I wanted to help people work around this and not do the same thing."

He said children tended to keep their feelings to themselves and his speech encouraged children to talk to somebody if they felt depressed. 

Luka's father, Perrin Aish, said he initially did not want his son to do a speech about suicide, but later decided it was good to talk about it. 

He said parents affected by suicide of a child would rather see the issue addressed than ignored. 

But Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand chief executive Shaun Robinson said the school had done the right thing.

"Simply talking about suicide is not neutral or necessarily beneficial. 

"In fact, with the best will in the world, it can often have the opposite effect to what people want," he said.

Mr Robinson said children needed active support to deal with their problems. 

"While the messages that Luka was trying to raise are really valid, it's important that the actual support is actively there in the school for kids that might be in some kind of distress."

Mr Robinson said several organisations, such as the Skylight Trust, had resources specifically for talking to children about suicide, but schools generally did not have enough support for dealing with suicide. 

Principal's Federation spokesperson Perry Rush said the issue was extraordinarily complex.

He said some primary school programmes had suicide-prevention aspects, such as encouraging children to seek help for their problems, and to talk about their feelings.

Mr Rush said schools needed more help to deal with the problem of youth suicide.

Health Ministry figures showed there were 549 suicides in 2012, of which 12 involved children aged between 10 and 14.

If you would like help, here are some options:

  • Lifeline: 0800 543 354 - available 24/7
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) - available 24/7
  • Youthline: 0800 376 633
  • Samaritans: 0800 726 666 - available 24/7
  • Kidsline: 0800 543 754 - available 24/7
  • Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 - 1pm to 10pm weekdays, 3pm to 10pm weekends
  •  Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 - available 24/7
  • Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.