Warning: This article is about suicide and may be distressing for some readers.
The Herald has asked a lot of its readers over the past six weeks. Youth suicide and mental depression are not easy subjects to read and think about at the length and intensity of the attention we have given it. But Olivia Carville's searching and sensitive work has provided insights to the suffering of those suicidally depressed and the anguish of their families, as well as challenging the official code of silence around the subject in this country.
The code has not prevented New Zealand having the worst teenage suicide in the developed world and might have contributed to it. No reader of our series could fail to have been struck by how much sufferers from depression, past and present, want to talk about it. They need to know they are not alone, not rare or exceptional, particularly if they cannot point to an external reason for their depression. It is a condition that appears in all bands of income, occupations and social situations.
But it's teenagers who are particularly vulnerable, the most self-conscious and often uncertain phase of life, when relationships fail and decisions must be made that seem more fateful than they really are. We can only hope the discussion on our pages and digital platforms over the past six weeks has helped some of those at risk and even saved some lives. We know, though, at least three young people, two 12-year-olds and a teen at high school, have died by suspected suicides over those six weeks.
Nobody claims to have a single solution. Talking openly about suicide might help, not talking openly about it might help avert "copy cat" cases as some experts believe. But no matter how much the news media and schools are muzzled, every case of youth suicide is discussed by friends and acquaintances and these days social media can circulate that discussion very widely, very quickly.
In the course of the series the Ministry of Education has reviewed its advice to schools on the way a death in a class can be discussed. We also sat down with Health Minister Jonathan Coleman who had tried to duck the subject for four months. He will consider setting a suicide reduction target, though targets are not a solution of course. They are useful when a solution is known and a target can help concentrate minds, effort and resources on the work required.
The Prime Minister's chief science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, provided a challenging criticism of the way we raise children today. He believes they are too protected from emotional stress when they are very young and grow up poorly prepared for the risks and rigours of adolescence, which have increased with social media.
Some of the statistics emerging from academic research are astounding. They say as many as half of our teenagers will self harm before they leave school. Helping teens deal with the difficult passage to adulthood needs to involve not just schools and mental health services but the media and the creators of fiction, art and music that speak to young people. We all need to be life-affirming and acknowledge our good fortune to be living where we do, because it is true.
WHERE TO GET HELP:
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:
DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
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.