Bernadine Oliver-Kerby: New Zealanders need to openly talk about suicide

Each year more than 500 New Zealanders take their own lives. Each year more than 2500 others attempt to take their own lives and fail. Photo / Getty Images
Each year more than 500 New Zealanders take their own lives. Each year more than 2500 others attempt to take their own lives and fail. Photo / Getty Images

Bernadine Oliver-Kerby is a newsreader for Mike Hosking Breakfast.

Not talking about suicide is killing us.

I read with some shock that former Wallaby Dan Vickerman had died and I swiftly scanned the article wondering if he'd fallen ill, had been sick or involved in an accident.

The last sentence read: "There are no suspicious circumstances relating to his death."

We all know what that's code for.

So why is it we are relegated to code crackers? Reduced to hushed tones when reading of death that's a consequence of one's own hand?

Why do we stop talking about suicide when we're encouraging those who are vulnerable or fragile to do exactly the opposite and start talking.

The numbers are staggering.

Each year more than 500 New Zealanders take their own lives. Each year more than 2500 others attempt to take their own lives and fail.

But is it really us as a nation who have failed?

While Australia, Canada, the US and the UK have instilled guidelines rather than criminal laws, New Zealand has strict rules and restrictions on the reporting of suicide.

Even bereaved families could face prosecution for speaking publicly about a family member's suicide.

There's real concern if the media reports on such events, it could encourage copy-cat suicides or contagion and cluster suicides.

While I'm sure that there are Harvard-worthy graphs and charts substantiating those claims, I can't help but think there's something big, really big we're missing here.

Our rates aren't dropping.

In fact, little old New Zealand has shamefully made the top 50 of the World Health Organisation's list of global suicide rates. It's a list you don't want to star on.

So how can say with any authority that our way is working?

It seems we're perhaps more focused on throwing a protective veil over the whole tragic act of suicide while holding our fingers to our lips with a "Shhhhh."

Should we not encourage the airwaves to be opened, commence the dialogue and be ready to hear from those who think life's a shit sandwich and it's always lunchtime.

I have had colleagues and friends share with me the reality of the dark abyss they, often unknowingly, spiralled into. Death most certainly an option and for two of them, failed attempts at ending the misery.

But that information was forthcoming only once they'd emerged from the haze, back from the brink and normal transmission, for the most part, resumed.

They're talking now, why weren't they talking before? Fear of stigma and judgement.

The topic of suicide not accepted or encouraged by society and for some it's simply unpalatable.

And our men, dying at three times the rate of women, too staunch to talk or too fearful they won't be heard?

We ask, but do we listen?

"How are you?" It rolls of the tongue with ease yet rarely a thought is given to the reply.

We happily accept the stock standard "good", "fine thanks" and "not too bad."

Could any of those lives lost, been saved if there was a society better equipped to deal with the emotions those tortured souls and minds are inevitably forced to suppress.

How many families have had their worlds turned upside down with the devastation of suicide and collectively said they had no idea things were so bad.

Could any of those lives have been saved if there was a more accepting community not afraid to openly talk, listen and discuss the raw emotions we've come to suppress.

It's what we do. And it's got to change.

It's time we started a conversation, and keep talking.

Keep talking about the taboo topic that has hundreds each year, quite literally, on the edge.

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
Samaritans 0800 726 666
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

- Newstalk ZB

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