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

Parents who have lost children to suicide are calling for the Government to "put aside politics" and find the courage to tackle our shocking youth suicide rate.

More than a dozen bereaved parents have signed a letter sent to politicians today, which states: "As families who have lost loved ones to suicide, we know a bit about courage."

"We've had to ask ourselves difficult, uncomfortable questions. We need you to have courage, too."


The parents said the first step in addressing New Zealand's mental health crisis, and in turn reducing our suicide rate, is to acknowledge the problem: "Don't get stuck at the first stage - have the courage to take every step," they wrote.

They are urging the Government to adopt a national suicide prevention target, to hold an independent mental health inquiry, to reduce the cost to access doctors and to restore $2.3 billion of what they claim has been "underfunded" in health care.

Three mothers - Patrice Harrex, Corinda Taylor and Maria Dillon - who all lost their sons to suicide and signed the letter told the Herald that what they want most of all is to know the powers that be are listening to their pleas.

Ross Taylor, 20, took his own life in 2013. Photo / Supplied
Ross Taylor, 20, took his own life in 2013. Photo / Supplied

New Zealand has the highest teen suicide rate in the developed world and the second highest youth suicide (aged 25 and under) rate. The number of deaths has remained largely unchanged for the past two decades.

Through a five-week special series, called Break the Silence, the Herald has investigated why our rates are so high and whether we've been doing enough to reduce them.

This week we are looking into potential solutions to the problem, starting with suggestions put forward by those most affected: parents who have lost a child to suicide.

Patrice Harrex's 25-year-old son, Brad Anderson, took his own life in 2010. "If I was the health minister I would be hanging my head in shame and pulling my hair out thinking 'what the hell are we going to do about this?," Harrex said. "It's time for action."

Corinda Taylor's 20-year-old son Ross killed himself in 2013. He was a student at Otago University in Dunedin. Taylor said her son received no help for his mental health issues. After his death, she said she received no help through her crippling grief.


"They should listen to us because nobody has ever listened to us before. Our voices have been silenced and we hold many of the answers," Taylor said.

Harry McLean, aged 18, died by suicide in 2013. Photo / Supplied
Harry McLean, aged 18, died by suicide in 2013. Photo / Supplied

Maria Dillon also lost her 18-year-old son to suicide in 2013. Her son, Harry McLean, took his life while he was a mental health patient under the care of Hillmorton Hospital in Christchurch.

"Any parent you speak to who has lost a child to suicide will tell you the same thing, that no other family should have to go through this; that no child should have to go through this," she said.

Last year 579 people died by suicide in New Zealand - the highest number ever recorded since the provisional suicide statistics were first released in 2007/08.

"How much have we lost as a country because these people were not supported through their crisis?" Dillon asked. "Death by suicide is cruel, it's utterly cruel and I don't want anyone to feel the pain I felt, that's not what this is about. This is about turning things around."

The group - which is part of the YesWeCare.nz coalition - also wants to see an increase in health care workers trained specifically for suicide prevention and for the Government to pledge to ensure every rental home across the country is warm and dry.

"As politicians you can make a real different to Kiwis when they are most vulnerable," the letter said.

"Suicide is preventable and good policy is key. There is hope. And we believe working with you collaboratively is an important part of our healing process."

Budget 2017 has set aside 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.