Editorial: Suicide left in shadows far too long


World Suicide Prevention Day passed by yesterday.

Going by statistics, almost 3000 people around the world chose that day to end their lives. Another 60,000 would have attempted to end their lives.

The same is happening today.

It would be unbelievable if not for the fact that at least two people, one thought to be 14 years old, killed themselves in Hawke's Bay on Saturday. And I emphasise "at least", because official details are mostly hard to come by. Suicides are not always easily identified by the media.

Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean last week provided the nation's provisional annual suicide statistics, and revealed that 35 people took their own lives in the Hastings coronial region last year.

Of real concern is that what was once mostly the domain of the elderly, is now gaining favour with youth.

Eighty teenagers between 15 and 19 took their own lives, up from 56 the year before, and Maori suicides, particular young Maori, were over-represented.

Last year, somewhere in New Zealand, a boy aged between 5 and 9 ended his own life.

A colleague asked: "What could drive a boy of that age to take his own life?"

That is the question health professionals grapple with, as they seek to prevent such deaths.

Putting that case to the side, because I have no knowledge of its circumstances, we can speculate on some of the reasons youth take their lives - even as young as that poor boy.

Drug and alcohol abuse has depression as a natural bed-fellow. And they are common causes of suicide.

Going by some of the material posted on local Facebook sites highlighted in Hawke's Bay Today last week, there is a sick underbelly into which many of our precious children are born. Dangerous places where lives can be destroyed in an instant. As if we didn't know that. Think Sahara Baker Koro and other unfortunate souls. Beyond their terrible fates will be suicides and suicide attempts.

But suicide is not simplistic. It's complex. Psychological, social, biological, cultural and environmental factors are said to be involved. And then there is impulse - the teenager with a broken heart who can't see tomorrow.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne says twice as many people commit suicide as die in road accidents and the same emphasis should be put on reducing the toll. But how, when it is so difficult to corner?

Judge MacLean is on the right track.

"I continue to believe we need to gently bring the issue of suicide from out of the shadows," he said. "Coroners have a responsibility to encourage the informed public discussion about how best to reduce the rate of suicide. To have that discussion we need up-to-date and complete information."

Causal factors have to be examined and tabled, if effective prevention methods are to be found.

And the prevention can not just fall at the feet of one sector. Health and non-health sectors have to work together. That young boy's problem would have crossed the paths of many - doctor, teacher, and others.

Judge MacLean clearly believes that the prevention of suicide has not been helped by society refusing to discuss the subject openly, treating it as taboo, to be kept behind closed doors.

The grimness of the situation has been hidden for too long. It's now time to talk suicide prevention.

Footnote: In the last 45 years, suicide rates have increased by 60 per cent worldwide. Suicide is among the three leading causes of death among those aged 15-44 years in some countries, and the second leading cause of death in the 10-24 years age group.

Although traditionally suicide rates have been highest among the male elderly, rates among young people have been increasing to such an extent that they are now the group at highest risk in a third of countries, in developed and developing countries.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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