No mass teen suicide pact - DHB

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

Wairarapa health agencies are working to dispel rumours of a youth suicide pact after the deaths of four teenagers plunged the community into a 'climate of chaos and trauma'.

Three teenagers from Masterton and one from Pahiatua have died suddenly since June, with the latest death reported to be of a 17-year-old Masterton girl on Thursday.

One was a pupil at Chanel College in Masterton and another an ex-pupil of Makoura College in Masterton.

Makoura College will hold a meeting tonight to identify danger signs, and to offer help on how to support children as rumours of more deaths continue to ripple through the community.

Senior Sergeant Warwick Burr said he was aware of rumours of a suicide pact and police were ready to take urgent action at the prospect of someone about to commit suicide.

"We are discouraging young people from jumping on the bandwagon so to speak. The texting and the Facebooking is fuelling the frenzy particularly with people saying things that they have no intention of doing,'' he told Fairfax Media.

Wairarapa DHB suicide prevention co-ordinator Barry Taylor today said there was no evidence of a suicide pact.

"There have been rumours of a pact but we are confident that in fact a pact does not exist. We have taken the threat seriously and we have been working with a variety of agencies to monitor the situation, provide a coordinated response,'' he told APNZ.

Mr Taylor said the biggest challenge for the community had been the rumours and misinformation that had spread through text messages and social media.

"None of these have been true and the danger of course it creates more sense of chaos and trauma for people who are already dealing with intense feelings around the loss of friends and people that they know in the community.''

Mr Taylor said it was very hard to manage the flow of misinformation.

The emphasis for agencies was on working with schools, youth groups, churches and parents to give them correct information.

A 2007 survey of 32 of Makoura College's 262 students found 16 percent had symptoms of depression, 22 percent had seriously thought about killing themselves in the past year, and 16 percent had attempted suicide in that time.

Mr Taylor said those statistics were concerning but were not unusual across schools.

"What it indicates is that there is a high level in young people experiencing difficulties, and quite severe difficulties in their lives,'' he said.

"The school took that information very seriously and over the years have been actually working, trying to build up resiliency, trying to increase, promote positive mental health and well-being amongst their student body.''

Mr Taylor said suicide was quite rare for school students, who have access to support services, and three of the young people who died recently had left school.

Tonight's meeting would help parents to understand what was happening and to provide advice on how to support their children.

The message to parents was to be open and understanding, and to encourage young people to engage.

"Suicide is often a long-term, permanent solution to a very short-term problem, and what we're trying to do is help young people to see that.''

Makoura College pupils have set up Shout, a campaign using wristbands, presentations and T-shirts to spread positive messages.

More than 70 people - many from affected families - turned out to a hui organised by local iwi Rangitane on Thursday which discussed a lack of support for teenagers dealing with the deaths and rumours.


WHERE TO GET HELP
* If it's an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111. Or call Youthline 0800 376 633, Lifeline 0800 543 354, Depression Helpline 0800 111 757, What's Up 0800 942 8787 (noon-midnight).
* Suicide Prevention Information New Zealand has more information. Visit: www.spinz.org.nz.
*The Ministry of Health also offers information at www.depression.org.nz, and a teen specific website at www.thelowdown.co.nz


- APNZ

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