Fresh ideas sought to tackle youth suicide

By Amelia Romanos, Hana Garrett-Walker

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne. File photo / NZPA
Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne. File photo / NZPA

Innovative ways to get young men with mental health issues to seek help need to be continually thought up to help bring down the male youth suicide rate, a mental health expert says.

Figures released yesterday show New Zealand had the highest male youth suicide rate in the OECD, despite a slight decline in suicides generally from 2008 to 2009.

Suicide and hospital data for 2009, the most recent year available, shows 506 people died by suicide in 2009, or 11.2 people per 100,000 - down from 11.8 in 2008.

Youth suicide rates have fallen even further, down by 36.8 per cent since 1995. In 2009, 114 people aged between 15 and 24 took their own lives - 93 of whom were male.

But even though the male youth suicide rate fell from a high of 44.1 per 100,000 in 1995, to 29 per 100,000 in 2009, New Zealand's rate was still the highest in the OECD.

Shyamala Nada-Raja, a senior research fellow at Otago University's Injury Prevention Research Unit, said male youth suicide had been a major concern for the past decade or so.

She said the reasons the rate was so high included the methods used, high alcohol and drug use, and violence-related issues.

Anecdotal reports suggested an increasing number of men had been contacting services for help with mental health, she said.

"That's a step in the right direction, but then they have to take another step where those young men actually get the help they need and we see an improvement in their mental health so they don't repeat these kinds of behaviour which put them at risk for suicide, and that's where we don't have the data yet to be able to comment."

Youth suicide was a complex picture, and suicide prevention experts had to continue finding ways to highlight mental health issues in young men that encouraged them to get professional help.

Dr Nada-Raja said one of the ways to encourage young men to get help was through online therapies "to try and make those more accessible for young people to use if they're feeling reluctant to make that face-to-face contact with a health professional".

She also said innovative research by the University of Auckland published last week found a computer program designed to help young people with depression had proven to be at least as effective as standard therapy.

The self-help game, SPARX, uses a 3D fantasy format to teach young people to cope with challenges and to control their moods.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne yesterday said that with a previously announced $62 million youth mental health project, the Government was developing a new suicide prevention action plan this year.

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Judi Clements urged all New Zealanders to think about how they could help to reduce the country's suicide rate.

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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