29 Oct 2012

Coroner calls for more discussion on youth suicide

10:06 pm on 29 October 2012

Chief Coroner Neil MacLean is encouraging more discussion about the scale of young people committing suicide.

Nearly 160 people under the age of 24 killed themselves in the year ending June, making up 29% of the total number of suicides.

In Northland, 32 people are thought to have killed themselves this year - half of them under the age of 24.

Haami Piripi, chief of Far North iwi Te Rarawa, says the community is concerned after several deaths in the past fortnight, including a 10-year-old boy, two girls aged 13 and 14, and a 23-year-old mother.

Mr MacLean said he is encouraging Coroners to be more willing to talk about suicides.

"We've kind of had a bit of a head in the sand attitude towards it. It's sort of all been a bit too hard, a bit too complicated, and some fear that even talking about it somehow will encourage others to do it - which I don't buy into."

The Chief Coroner said youth suicides can sometimes happen in clusters and there needed to be a stronger emphasis on responding to these deaths and supporting friends and family.

Social networking sites Facebook and Twitter should be used as a tool to identify young people who are showing signs of vulnerability, Mr MacLean said.

On Sunday, Te Rarawa signed a Treaty of Waitangi settlement package in Kaitaia worth about $70 million. Mr Piripi said a priority for new iwi social programmes funded from the settlement is to halt the numbers of young people committing suicide.

However, Mr Piripi said it is extremely difficult to know how to tackle the suicide rate without giving the issue a profile among young people that might make the problem worse.

Far North mayor Wayne Brown said the spike in youth suicides in the region is sad, but it is up to the Government to act, and the media should not be focusing on just the bad points of rural New Zealand.

King hosts Whangarei meeting

Comedian and television presenter Mike King hosted a public meeting in Whangarei on Monday to discuss suicide.

Mr King, who founded mental health support show The Nutters' Club, said he had been invited to speak in Northland by the friend of a parent whose child committed suicide.

He said he is aware that a number of Whangarei high school students have taken their own lives in recent months and believes that to prevent suicide the community needs to become less staunch and disapproving, and instead be more compassionate.

Mr King said people thinking about suicide are afraid to say so because the community has a policy of not discussing it and is disengaged.

He said after a meeting in Masterton recently, he was approached by two young people who had been contemplating suicide, but did not feel safe discussing their thoughts with anyone.

Mr King said he gave them his phone number and that of the doctor who appears on his show.

Mental health agencies and district health boards can only do so much and the community can help resolve the problem by taking some of the pressure from them, he said.

The Whangarei meeting was held at the Kamo Rugby Club from 6.30pm.