Warning: This article is about youth suicide and may be distressing for some readers.

Scores of secondary schools believe they aren't supported to handle the suicidal behaviour of students.

The finding was part of a Herald survey of New Zealand's more than 500 secondary schools carried out as part of our Break The Silence special series into youth suicide.

It comes after a new survey of 8500 high school students by the University of Auckland found one in 20 had attempted suicide in the previous 12 months.


"I guess the question is, in a country with one of the highest teenage suicide rates in the OECD, are we giving our teenagers the best possible care in schools?" asked Tanya Clark, head of counselling at St Dominic's Catholic College in Auckland.


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New Zealand has the second worst suicide rate among those aged 25 and under in the developed world. It has the worst suicide rate among those aged 15-19. The number of young people killing themselves has remained largely unchanged for about two decades.

The Break The Silence series aims to encourage young people to talk; to know there's hope; to know help is available. And it aims to start a national conversation about what New Zealand is doing about the issue - and whether it's enough.

As part of more than six months of research, the Herald sent a questionnaire to New Zealand's 507 secondary schools.


Just over half of those contacted refused to engage, with some saying "not everyone believes in media coverage of this issue".

The 235 schools that replied had experienced a combined 150 student suicides. In one school a Year Nine student had killed themselves three weeks earlier. Another school had lost six students to suicide since 2007.

One principal said he had dealt with 40 serious suicide attempts or self-harm incidents. Another estimated she had at least five student suicide attempts a year on average.

Sixty schools said they didn't have a written suicide policy, despite reporting suicide attempts on school grounds. Thirty-nine said they had no counsellor on-site.

And 40 per cent said they did not feel adequately supported to handle the suicidal behaviour of students.

Education Minister Nikki Kaye believes authorities can do better supporting schools to handle youth suicide. Photo / Michael Craig
Education Minister Nikki Kaye believes authorities can do better supporting schools to handle youth suicide. Photo / Michael Craig

Education Minister Nikki Kaye conceded attempts by previous governments to address youth suicide had largely failed and it was time for a "national conversation" on the issue.

"Do I think we can do better in terms of support for schools in this area? Yes, I do. and I will be listening to the concerns raised by schools," Kaye said.

• Support the Mental Health Foundation by texting 'Break the Silence' to 2446 to make an automatic $3 donation.

If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.

If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:

LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234

There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.