Rebecca Quilliam

Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the APNZ News Service office in Wellington.

Coroner lashes out at suicide reporting rules

A coroner has spoken out against rules on the reporting of suicide. Photo / Thinkstock
A coroner has spoken out against rules on the reporting of suicide. Photo / Thinkstock

A coroner has launched a blistering attack on the rules governing the reporting of suicide and has implored the Government to change legislation in his findings into the deaths of five young Maori men and women from the Eastern Bay of Plenty.

The findings related to the deaths of Jordan Leigh Gray, 17, Kelly Haze Karekare, 17, Te Horoto Araroa, 16, Alex Junior Taku Mahuta, 17, and Tegan McGregor, 20, all from Kawerau.

All died in the same manner between October 2010 and February 2011.

Bay of Plenty Regional Coroner Wallace Bain and youth suicide expert Candy Cookson-Cox found the deaths were not a cluster, but there was a cultural aspect to them.

Dr Cookson-Cox praised the people of Kawerau and the people involved for the "concerted effort" they had made to address the suicide issue.

Dr Bain said that in 2006, after suicide tragedies in the Waikato town of Putaruru, legislation was tightened around what could be reported on suicides.

"The Coroner highlights real concerns with the recent editorial in the New Zealand Medical Journal which greatly criticises the calls for more openness.

"Sir Peter Gluckman's views are referred to as leading to caution in the area of publication and the high risk of copy-cat suicides."

Dr Bain was concerned at claims by experts that there may be increased risks of suicide in New Zealand and said it was "alarming" that experts were suggesting that more openness could facilitate more suicides.

"The coroner stresses that these matters be resolved urgently within New Zealand so that coroners, the media, and communities of New Zealand have a clearer direction based on international best practice in suicide prevention as to publication and openness and the effects of suicidal behaviour."

He recommended the Government urgently put in place an evaluation aimed at assessing the extent of recent changes to media guidelines and its effect on suicidal behaviours.

Dr Bain also recommended the Government give urgent attention to the aspects in the Coroners Act that related to the definition of the "manner in which death occurred".

He said there should be more clarity around the direction to coroners that they could not allow publication unless they determined it was unlikely to be detrimental to public safety.

Last month Chief Coroner Neil Maclean called for suicide be "brought out of the shadows".

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," he said.

Earlier this month, Coroner Sue Johnson urged the Ministry of Health conduct a national media campaign to throw light on how to recognise and deal with a suicidal person.

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


Key statistics

• 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; and

• 28 per cent of people who killed themselves were unemployed.

Source: Coronial Services Unit


Where to get help

• If it's an emergency and you feel you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

• Youthline: 0800 376 633.

• Lifeline: 0800 543 354.

• Depression: Helpline 0800 111 757.

• What's Up: 0800 942 8787 (noon-midnight).

- NZ Herald

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