27 Oct 2012

Father of teenage suicide calls for national campaign

7:29 pm on 27 October 2012

The father of a teenager who committed suicide is calling for a national campaign similar to the ones aimed at preventing road deaths.

Arthur Harawira says the death of his son Eru in 1996 at the age of 15 was triggered by his break-up with a girlfriend.

Mr Harawira, who has already started a group called Fathers against Suicide, says a high-profile campaign similar to the ones against speeding and drink-driving is needed to tackle the problem.

"We need to have a public campaign against suicide," he says, "so that it's all right to discuss in the school, in the home, on the marae, with your uncles or aunties, and there's a greater awareness of what suicide is."

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne says there is scope for much greater public awareness of the issue and he is not ruling out such a campaign

Mr Dunne adds however that a review of media guidelines on how suicide is reported, as recommended by Bay of Plenty coroner Wallace Bain, would be premature.

Sir Peter Gluckman's view

Reporting on the deaths of five young people in Kawerau between late 2010 and early 2011, Mr Bain called for an urgent review.

In his findings, he referred to the views of the Prime Minister's chief science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, who said in a 2010 ministerial committee report to the Prime Minister that, in a generic sense, better public discussions of suicide is desirable.

But Sir Peter strongly advised against a media-driven urge to give greater publicity to individual tragedies, for fear of copycat cases.

Guidelines need more time - Dunne

Mr Dunne says new reporting guidelines that came into effect about 18 months ago need to be given more time before they're reviewed.

He says there is tension between opening up discussion and ensuring suicide is not glorified or sensationalised. "That's going to be an ongoing tension. I'm in conversation with the Chief Coroner and Sir Peter about that on a fairly regular basis."

Mr Bain found the deaths of the four young Kawerau people might not have been linked but all four had - among other things - undiagnosed mental health issues, early exposure to domestic violence and early use of alcohol and drugs.

A fifth death, which he also investigated, was considered unrelated. The five young people were aged between 16 and 20.