When Your Head Spins


News update (updated Jan 2004)
SOSAD will no longer be monitoring and reprinting media coverage. for the latest comment go to the editorial page
  Suicides down but still a concern
  Suicide prevention is everyone's business
  Suicide emphasis review needed
  For emergencies (resources)
  Suicide levels up to Depression levels (1999)
Factors influencing youth suicide
Dive into the inspiration pool?

In the Media:   

State undermines suicide
prevention efforts with
ill-conceived backlash

Political correctness chokes suicide funding

In an ill conceived and heavy-handed move the Government has put political correctness ahead of positive efforts to educate and help young people  at risk of adding to New Zealand's reputation as the country with the highest youth suicide statistics in the developed world.

In May 2003 the government directly interfered with efforts by independent, privately funded efforts designed to get young people in schools talk through a important issues of life and death and seek help.

The bureaucratic bungle which saw three government departments write to schools raising doubts about the effectiveness of suicide awareness and prevention programmes was done without consultation with the groups involved and with no compelling evidence.

The government claimed it had received reports suggesting some programmes were harmful and could increase suicide risk. After "anecdotal" reports the Ministries of Health, Education and Youth Affairs warned schools at least two school-based programmes were being investigated.

While the Government departments refused to name the programmes the Yellow Ribbon Trust which distributes cards saying "it's okay to seek help" was immediately put under suspicion, along with Project Hope. 

However two months later in July 2003 the Yellow Ribbon organisation was commended for its schoolyard training as having a positive effect on youth. The study by Auckland University's Injury Prevention Research Centre also indicated there was a desire among Yellow Ribbon's teenage 'ambassadors' to have more training. The group conducted the first major study into the organisation's "It's OK to ask for help" campaign fronted by youth ambassadors who're supposed to direct troubled youth to adults for assistance.

The survey of 562 young people involved in the programme said however the biggest drawback was lack of research and funding to determine the outcomes of what it was doing. The report was welcome confirmation that the organisations were on the right tracks after being accused by government agencies which had slammed the use of celebrities with little knowledge of suicide prevention, the branding used, the lack of qualified co-ordinators and the fact that the groups served to raise awareness of suicide among young people.

Yellow Ribbon met with government representatives and was virtually forced to comply with new guidelines, including reviewing its controversial Fight For Life fundraiser and whether boxing was the right sport to raise funding.  It was asked to drop the term suicide in its work with schools.

Ultimately Yellow Ribbon claims it lost about $400,000 from the fight For Life because it agreed to the deal with the government not to use the world suicide. The campaign which split $565,421 from the 2003 boxing promotion with telephone counseling service Youthline but will not be taking part in the 2004 event.

Fight for Life 2003 raised $1.424 million although costs of staging the event were $858,502 plus another $45,000 to make the TV series. Over the previous three years the fight For Life had raised $2.2 million toward youth suicide prevention.

Yellow Ribbon chairman Marco Marinkovich says the governments concerns about the use of the word suicide were 'PC' and took a sting out of the brand.

This government smear campaign smacks of earlier attempts to try and sweep concerns about youth suicide under the carpet. Newspapers and media in general were asked not to write stories about suicide cases and strict guidelines were produced. 

SOSAD, a web-based resource bringing together the bulk of youth suicide resources in New Zealand and links to all the major help organsations, says this kind of heavy handed approach seeks to curb discussion about one of our most urgent social problems.

The mere suggestion that youth shouldn't talk to each other about suicide related issues or how they feel is an attempt at censorship. "Youth need to talk among themselves in an environment where they feel comfortable and should be provided with helpful pro-life information and contacts pointing them in the right direction for further help."

The government letter recommends schools don't encourage students to talk about suicide directly or indirectly. SOSAD warns this is not only an attempt to curb freedom of speech but to bottle up the frustrations of youth which can only be safely tackled by open and sensible dialogue.

The Government letter says students shouldn't be encouraged to take responsibility for those who may be at risk. Rather, according to a report in The Sunday Star Times  students should only seek help from responsible adults. 

"Surely this should be a matter for youth to decide themselves. Youth are far more broad in their thinking than we give them credit for. Putting the right information in their hands and encouraging them to talk about their hurts and frustrations can be an important part of getting their thinking back on track and realising they are not alone," says SOSAD.

Andrew Kay, executive director of Here for Life, ( http://www.hereforlife.org.au ) a suicide prevention campaign in Australia said international research destroyed the "myth" that raising awareness of suicide led to it.

He was disappointed government departments were not working with and supporting prevention organisations like Yellow Ribbon.

According to an OECD report released in February 2003  comparing statistics across the 30-nation organisation New Zealand had the highest youth suicide rate based on 1998 figures. These numbers have improved in ensuing years. Government figures show youth suicide peaked at 28.2 suicides for every 100,000 people aged 15-24 in 1995 and dropped to 18.1 in 2000

Media makes up its own mind

In the past the government has sought to stifle media coverage of suicide, suggesting its best not to talk about it for fear of escalating the problem. Apparently ignoring suicide makes it seem at least that the problem is going away.

Thankfully newspapers large enough to make up their own minds, such as the NZ Herald and Sunday Star Times continue to probe and question in order to understand our changing society and those in crisis.

The impact of suicide is like dropping a rock in a lake, the rings of pain and consequence from that tragedy spread out to their family, their circle of friends, their schoolmates and co-workers.

Perhaps one of those rocks was the controversial Questions programme, which screened on Wednesday October 18th, 2000 on TV3. The drama featuring at risk people, including those who ended their lives was shown and then a serious panel discussion was held with experts in the field and survivors.

Counseling services around the country combined to operate a one-off 24 hour helpline. Before the end of the 2 hour programme the 50 telephone lines were jammed. Counselors were overwhelmed and TV3’s own switchboard fielded hundreds of calls.

Then deputy Prime Minister Jim Anderton, who has had first hand experience of youth suicide with a loss in his own family, cried "enough" following a coroners ruling on three self inflicted deaths in Nelson.

Appalled at the gap

 Nelson coroner Ian Smith said he was appalled at the state of the nation's mental health system. If someone was dying of cancer, he said people would be queuing up to help but with mental health "we seem to have this gynormous gap."

Mr Anderton said there had been enough reports and the Government should not ignore the issue. He says the road transport industry values deaths by road accident at $2 million and is prepared to spend that amount on fixing our roads to help prevent accidents. By that measure he says New Zealand should be spending $6 million a week preventing suicide.

He’s joined other Government ministers as part of a Youth Suicide Prevention Committee which will now begin looking seriously at way to curb the crisis.

Statistics released in 2003 and 2004 covering the the 200-2001 years confirmed once more that New Zealand's youth suicide rate is the worst in the developed world. Among our small 3.8 million population there were 138 deaths in 1998 - three males for every female. Of that number 40 were indigenous Maori and
138 were young people. ( Suicide statistics for 2001 here.)

The number was slightly down on 1997 when 142 people aged between 15 - 24 years of age took their own lives. In 1996 there were 143 youth who prematurely ended their lives. The provisional figure for 1999 was 120 youth deaths and in 2001. In short, little has changed.

The real tragedy becomes clear when we see youth suicides have hovered between 120 - 130 a year between 1990 to 1993 to 137 in 1994. The 1995 stats showed a leap to 156 suicides with 1310 hospital admissions from failed attempts.

Statistically we’re living in the past. The overall five-year trend shows epidemic rises in young people ending their lives. It’s not just youth, young men and women in their early 20s and 30s are giving up on in record numbers. It’s not time to sit back and believe old data. It’s time for positive, preventative action

It is difficult to determine the exact investment the Government has made in response to the current youth suicide crisis. The president of the Association for Adolescent Health and Development, Peter Watson says suicide trends will worsen unless millions more is spent on youth health and suicide prevention.

The Ministry of Youth Affairs was given $2 million in 1998 to take a lead role in youth suicide prevention. They produced a national strategy, commissioned some resources including the Spin comic and a guideline for GPs put together by the Mental Health Foundation. That money ran out by mid-2001. 

A foundation spokesperson said much of the prevention effort had been going towards those still at school, although the older group were actually more vulnerable. So too is the group of young adults immediately above them. There is a larger issue concerning the experience of men generally. Little resource is devoted to the older group.


Suicides down but still concern 25-04-02  

Suicides are declining but the rate is still too high, says the Ministry of Health.

 Provisional 1999 suicide statistics for all ages released in April 2002, show 514 people died by suicide in 1999 compared with 577 in 1998 and 561 in 1997. The 1999 total is the lowest since 1994 (512), ministry spokeswoman Maria cotter said.

 “It’s encouraging to know these rates can come down but the figures are still too high,” she said.

“Every suicide is a personal tragedy and devastates family and friends, colleagues and communities.”

 Suicide deaths have reduced among both Maori and non-Maori. The overall rate of suicide among Maori was the same as for non-Maori in 1999. But youth suicide rates are still significantly higher among Maori than non-Maori she said. Ms Cotter said preventing suicide was a priority under the New Zealand health strategy. 

She said the Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy worked to reduce youth suicide with a specific focus on preventing suicide among Maori youth. This strategy launched in 1968 is now led by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and involves a number of government agencies. 

– NZPA (25-04-02)

In 2000, 96 young people died from suicide. This was the lowest number of deaths since 1987. Males accounted for over two-thirds of youth suicide deaths in 1999. But for every completed suicide there are a far greater number of attempted suicides, according to the Youth Affairs Department.  

Suicide emphasis review need

– Naomi Larkin, New Zealand Herald (26-06-01)

 Two to three Aucklanders kill themselves every week. A disproportionate number of these deaths involve young men, and hanging is the most favoured method of suicide for New Zealanders.

These details were just one sample of a series of alarming statistics presented at a Child and Youth Mortality Review (25 June 2001).

The seminar hosted by the Auckland Mayoral Forum drew together a broad range of health and welfare specialists who were calling for a review of every child and young person’s death nationwide.

Dr Ian Goodwin, liaison psychiatrist based at Auckland Hospital’s emergency department told the forum that youth – particularly young men – killed themselves in disproportionate numbers to the rest of the population. 

Male suicides increased by 120 per cent between 1974 and 1994. “if that was happening in any other area of health there would be a massive response. About 500 new Zealanders kill themselves every year. In Auckland that means about 150 on average or about one through the mortuary every three days,” Dr Goodwin said.

Dr Liz Segedin, director pediatric intensive care at Starship hospital said 90 per cent of child deaths were preventable. These included deaths of pedestrians, passengers in cards, drowning and un-immunised children.

Guest speaker Dr Paul Pallan, Children’s Commissioner British Columbia outlined the province’s review process which had contributed to a drop in child deaths from 650 a year 12 years ago to 350.

The commissioner’s office was an independent authority with a mandate to review death among those aged 0-19 years and power to ensure that recommendations were carried out.

Suicide prevention is everybody's business
12 October 2000

The youth suicide rate has fallen slightly for the past three years but suicide is still the second leading cause of death for 15 to 24 year old New Zealanders, following motor vehicle crashes, and New Zealand's suicide rate remains one of the highest in the world.

The New Zealand Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy, now in its third year of implementation, aims to reduce the youth suicide rate partly by promoting positive mental health among young people and by reducing the stigma of mental health problems. October 9-15 is Mental Health Awareness Week.

Research consistently shows that up to 90 percent of those who take their own lives had a recognisable - but not necessarily recognised - mental illness, most commonly:

  • depressive disorders
  • alcohol, cannabis and other drug abuse-present in over one-third of those making suicide attempts
  • significant behavioural problems (such as conduct disorders and antisocial behaviours).
    In many cases those making serious suicide attempts will have more than one of these disorders at the time.

    "New Zealanders, especially young men, do not appear to be great at asking for help and this is an attitude that needs to change. We also need to be far more understanding of the problems and needs of others," the Ministry of Health's Deputy Director-General Mental Health, Dr Janice Wilson, said.

    The successful Like Minds, Like Mine campaign links with the New Zealand Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy by working to demystify mental health problems, reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and encouraging people to seek help.

    If you are concerned about someone who may be suicidal or is very distressed, you can seek advice and help from your family doctor or practice nurse, the community mental health service, Marae based health clinics, Mäori community health workers, a counsellor (including school guidance counsellor) or Mäori health/counselling services and phone counselling services such as Lifeline, Samaritans or Youthline.

    The New Zealand Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy is made up of two linked parts: In Our Hands (the whole population strategy) and Kia Piki te Ora o Te Taitamariki (the strategy specifically for young Mäori).

    "The Government can't reduce or prevent youth suicide on its own. Youth suicide prevention is everybody's business; the government, communities, families and individuals, and the growing number of community-led programmes in New Zealand shows that communities are responding to this challenge," Dr Wilson said.

    "The Ministry of Health is particularly pleased to see initiatives that draw on the framework and goals written in the national strategy. These programmes aim to show young people that their peers, families and communities care, they encourage young people to talk about their problems and concerns, and that it is okay to seek help," Dr Wilson said.

    Young people who are suicidal will need specialist treatment occasionally and support and this is offered mainly through specialist mental health services, which are being expanded throughout the country.

    A range of services and resources also need to be available for those who are bereaved after a suicide. The Ministry of Health is considering what resources and services are required to meet the needs of those who are bereaved by suicide.

    Kia Piki te Ora o te Taitamariki, the Mäori component of the Strategy has a strong foundation in community and cultural development as an approach to reduce and prevent taitamariki suicide. A range of programmes and resources are being developed specifically to strengthen Mäori communities, taitamariki Mäori, and their whänau and assist in their ability to address youth suicide prevention in a culturally appropriate way and at the local level.

    A range of factors appear to help protect people who might otherwise be at risk of suicide. These include coping skills, feelings of self-esteem and belonging, connections to family or school, secure cultural identity, supportive family/whänau, hapü and iwi, responsibility for children, and social support. However, while protective factors may act as buffers they do not simply cancel out the risk factors - rather, they may help limit the negative impact when appropriately linked with other preventative strategies.

    Please attribute the above information to the Ministry of Health's Deputy Director-General Mental Health, Dr Janice Wilson
Factors Influencing Youth Suicide
By Steve Tripp
Bachelor of Nursing Student (article found on the Internet)

One of the more disheartening health issues in New Zealand today is youth suicide. For the 15- 24 year old age bracket it is the second leading cause of death after motor vehicle crashes and it is increasing dramatically.

Between the years 1955 and 1989 the male youth rate increased by 630% while there was a 100% increase in the female rate over the same period. New Zealand is not alone in facing this rise in youth suicide rates. It seems to be occurring throughout the western world, but New Zealand and Australia are unique in that our youth suicide rates are higher than our overall suicide rates (Brett, 1993). (read on?)
Background information and resources

The following contacts may be helpful for providing information about suicide and links to mental illness.

Mental Health Foundation
PO Box 10051
Tel: (09) 630-8573
Fax: (09) 630-7190
resource@mental health.org.nz

SPINZ (Suicide Prevention Information Service New Zealand)
Tel: (09) 630-8573
Fax: (09) 630-7190

Youth Suicide Awareness Trust
PO Box 3369
Tel: toll Free 0508 CHOOSE LIFE

New Zealand Schizophrenia Fellowship Inc
PO Box 593
Tel: (03) 366-1909

Wellington Mental Health Consumers Union
P O Box 6228
53 Courtney Place
Tel: (04) 801-7769

Manic Depressive Society Inc
PO Box 25068
Tel: (03) 366-5815

Manic Depression Information Trust
PO Box 37829
Tel: (09) 827-7027
For emergencies:
  • the local 24 hour crisis mental health service (psychiatric emergency services)
  • community mental health services (including kaumatua)
  • ambulance
  • general practitioner
  • Emergency Department of the local hospital
  • Youthline (0800 376-633)
  • Lifeline (check the listing in your local telephone directory)
  • Samaritans (check the listing in your local telephone directory)

    The general support services below should be listed in the front section of your local phone book.
  • Community mental health services
  • School counsellor
  • General practitioner
  • Specialist Education Service
  • Lesbian and gay support counselling services
  • Iwi and other Maori health/counseling services
  • Sexual abuse counselling services
  • Family counselling services
  • Alcohol and drug Services
  • Bereavement services
  • Victim support

    For more information, contact:

    Angus Barclay, Media Advisor, phone: 04-496-2182
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