The Prime Minister's chief science adviser today released a report on youth suicide.

The evidence-based discussion paper analyses the multiple factors involved in youth suicide and includes potential approaches to reduce New Zealand's rates - which are among the highest in the developed world.

"What's different about this report I guess is the topic," chief science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman told the Herald.

"It's a topic that is an important one and it's a bloody complicated situation. There are multiple factors and there are people who think they may know the answer, but the whole situation is much more complex," he said.


Gluckman's report was released during the middle of a major New Zealand Herald series that questions why we have the highest rates of youth suicide in the developed world and asks if we are doing enough to help our vulnerable children.

The series has included 45 stories over the past four weeks with four major investigations. They uncovered an unprecedented and unreported youth suicide cluster in 2012; how New Zealand schools have been gagged from discussing suicide in classrooms; the rising numbers of suicidal children being turned down from our mental health services; and how almost half of our teenagers are self-harming before they leave school.

• The full Break the Silence coverage can be read here.

Also today, Health Minister Dr Jonathan Coleman announced he would extend funding for the Suicide Mortality Review Committee.

"Our suicide rate is too high, particularly the rates for youth and specifically Maori and Pacific young people," Coleman said.

"Although wider interventions and support have been made available, there is always more we can do."

The committee will provide vital knowledge about patterns of suicide that will help guide new suicide prevention activities, Coleman said.

The evidence-based discussion paper released today was prepared by Gluckman, together with departmental science advisers from the health, education, social development and justice sectors. The paper was sent to ministers this week and it can be read here.

Gluckman told the Herald he first started working on a mental health report last year, but he was asked to target his research towards youth suicide in a request from Education Minister Nikki Kaye in May.


The real problem with youth suicide, Gluckman said, was "you can't predict it at the individual level".

"There are an awful lot of arguments and an awful lot of failed approaches in youth suicide," he said.

"That's why we're emphasising we need to be very careful with any intervention we do."

The research paper states youth suicide is "more than simply a mental health issue and that, with what we know at present, the focus must also include an emphasis on primary prevention starting from very early in life".

This means promoting resilience to emotional stress and building self-control skills in early childhood and primary school years. It also means raising mental health awareness and "ensuring that there are competent and adequate adult and peer support systems in secondary schools", he said.

New Zealand's rate for teen (aged 15-19) suicide was the highest in the developed world in 2010, said the paper.

It said in the two years between July 2014 and June 2016, there were a total of 238 suicides by those aged 12-24 years.

However, the rates of hospital admission for self-harm are about 50-100-fold greater. Today the Herald published an investigation uncovering how almost half of our teenagers will self-harm before they leave high school.

Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Adviser to the Prime Minister. Photo / Dean Purcell.
Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Adviser to the Prime Minister. Photo / Dean Purcell.

The way young people live has changed significantly over recent decades, Gluckman said, which has created a "range of poorly understood but probably critical pressures that affect their psyche and behaviour".

He attributed these pressures to a change in family structure and child-rearing practices, and how technology has changed the nature of communication and increased bullying.

"Compared to previous generations, youth face many more choices at an earlier age, but at the same time may have less clarity as to their path ahead," Gluckman said.

"The pace of these sociological and technological changes is unprecedented and it is not surprising that for many young people, particularly those with less psychological resilience, it can leave them with a growing sense of dislocation."

There is no "definitive solution" to this issue, Gluckman said.

However, he pointed towards developing resilience to the stressors of growing up, reducing access to alcohol and enhancing the skills of young people for living in a digital world.

Prime Minister Bill English told reporters today there were "clearly indications that we can do more, particularly between our families, schools and agencies, to build [young people's] resilience".

"The science adviser's report will help lay out the landscape for that. I don't think it will contain any magic answers, but there is a lot of work going on right now about shifting the focus in mental health, including to deal with these issues more effectively," he said.

Budget 2017 has pledged an extra $224 million for mental health, including $124m for new approaches.

Details of these new mental health initiatives are expected to be released in coming weeks.

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.