Horror over child suicide rate surge

By Kate Shuttleworth, Matthew Theunissen

Officials revealed a child between 5 and 9 had killed themselves. Photo / Thinkstock
Officials revealed a child between 5 and 9 had killed themselves. Photo / Thinkstock

The number of youths taking their own lives has surged by more than 40 per cent, and the suicide of a child under nine has been recorded for the first time.

Figures released by Chief Coroner Judge Neil Maclean today revealed a child between 5 and 9 had killed themselves - the youngest recorded suicide since the Coronial Services Unit started collecting data in 2007.

But that death is not an isolated incident, according to a suicide prevention advocate.

Maria Bradshaw, whose 17-year-old son Toran Henry took his own life in 2008, said she was aware of a six-year-old girl and seven-year-old boy who had committed suicide in the past 12 months.

"(Pre-teen suicides) probably number less than 10 in the last two to three years but that's a huge underestimation - we don't know about half of the ones that happen. Generally the family are very reluctant to have a finding of suicide and coroners will return a verdict of accidental death or open verdict."

Mrs Bradshaw's son committed suicide amid allegations he was being bullied at school.

"... The blame and stigma and negativity that's associated with that is bad enough, I can't even imagine what it must be like for a family to lose a six or seven-year-old," Ms Bradshaw said.

Although the number of people who committed suicide in the year to June 30 fell by 11, the total included 80 people aged 15-19, up from 56 in the previous 12 months.

This is the third year Judge Maclean has released the figures.

They show:

* The number of Maori aged 15-19 who took their lives in the year to June 30 leapt to 37 from an average of 21 across the previous four years

* Suicides in the Christchurch region are rising after a drop in the aftermath of the devastating quakes. They're also rising on the West Coast and in Marlborough

* The number of suicides in the 50-74 age group has dropped but the rate among unemployed people compared to those in work remains high. Students and retired people also continue to have a high rate of suicide.

Judge Maclean said suicide had to be brought out of the shadows and he was worried by the increases in certain demographics.

"I am concerned that we seem to be making no impact - there has been no visible downward trend at all. Our job is to tell the public the facts - I am no more qualified to suggest an answer or a solution than anyone.

"Part of the problem is there are so many agencies who have something to contribute - it does need to be coordinated and pulled together.

"My hunch is there is a link. People don't commit suicide because they're poor, it's because they feel utterly at the end of their tether, but it doesn't help if you've got no money."

Prime Minister John Key said youth suicide statistics were damning and the Government needed to do better.

"I worry a lot about the fact it disproportionately affects Maori and Pacific boys. We can see where the issue is prevalent - it's been a longstanding problem."

He said suicide was a complex issue and the Government didn't have all the answers.

"When a young person takes their life, as a country you mourn that, because as adults we know that there's always a solution to problems.

"Unfortunately that young person gets themselves into a situation where they don't believe there's a solution to a problem,

He said the Government was spending $62 million on youth suicide and youth mental health programmes.


Provisional total suicide deaths per year in New Zealand
July 2007 - June 2012

Year / Total
2007/2008 - 540 people died from suicide
2008/2009 - 531 people died from suicide
2009/2010 - 541
20120/2011 - 558
2011/2012 - 547

Total over five years - 2717

Key findings:

- The number of suicides recorded by the Coronial Services Unit in the year to June 30 was 547, down 11 on the previous 12 months

- 74 per cent of all suicides in New Zealand were male

- Increase in suicides in the 15-19 age group - from 56 to 80

- The most common method of suicide (61 percent) was hanging, followed by poisoning and overdose

- 28 percent of people who killed themselves were unemployed

Source: Coronial Services Unit

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).

If you or someone you know wants advice on dealing with cyber bullies contact the NetSafe help line 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723).

- APNZ

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 20 Dec 2014 19:49:46 Processing Time: 59ms