No 'magic solution' to suicide

A community effort is needed if New Zealand is to address youth suicide, writes Brian Lowe. 

As Chief Coroner Judge Marshall said upon releasing the provisional suicide statistics for the year to June 2018, suicide continues to be a significant health and social problem in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Of the 668 recorded suicides in that period, those aged 24 years and under made up 137 of this total.

The highest number of suicides in the youth category were for those aged 20 to 24, which suffered 76 self-inflicted deaths. Alarmingly, the highest rate of suicide per 100,000 is also among this age group, at 21.21 per 100,000, giving our country the highest youth suicide rate in the OECD and one of the highest youth suicide rates in the world.

As manager of Youthline Otago, I can report that suicide risk presents itself to our highly trained staff and volunteers on a daily basis, whether through our 24/7 National Helpline, Face to Face service or community education programmes in schools or our public workshops like Good2Great

Suicide does not lend itself to a ``magic solution''.

As Prof Peter Gluckman reported to the Prime Minister's Office in 2017, ``there is no definitive solution but growing consensus on primary and secondary intervention aiming to provide young people with the capacity to better withstand the stresses of the teenage years''.

So, what can be done? We need to support our youth in building resilience and encourage help-seeking behaviour when they feel overwhelmed.

Moreover, when young people do courageously seek help, they need to be met with compassion and practical support. Young people face stresses and pressures that simply did not exist a few years ago.

Changing technology, global issues and new forms of social interaction add to the new world they must navigate. Youth need to be able to find places to express their feelings and not be judged. They need support that works for them and alongside them.

This is where each one of us can help. Suicide prevention is akin to finding a needle in a haystack, we cannot rely solely on agencies. My work in suicide prevention reinforces my belief that it will absolutely take a community effort to address this critical issue. The good news is, we all have the tools to help reduce youth suicide in our community!

Start by being that non-judgemental and trusted friend, family/whanau member or colleague. Be a good listener. Make time for people and give them your attention. Be approachable. Be able to talk about emotions and how people feel.

Be educated. Suicide prevention courses are accessible and can teach you skills to identify the signs that someone may be considering taking their own life. Such courses will help you learn how to sensitively but directly assess suicide risk while supporting the person.

Be part of a community networked to support those at risk. Identify agencies to reach out to in order to access help when required for both you and the person you are caring for. We are all here to help.

For those wanting to improve their knowledge, Youthline is proud to be supporting Dunedin Lives Worth Living: Youth Suicide in 2019, being held tomorrow. This workshop provides a practical and up-to-date assessment of what we know about youth suicide.

Dr Jonathan Singer is one of the world's leading commentators and advisers on preventing youth suicide. Learn about current theories of suicide and how those theories inform how we work with suicidal youth. It will cover upstream prevention.

This is particularly relevant while working with pupils and young adults, and the workshop will include discussion around the effective use of social media and online technologies to better engage with young people.

For more information, go to

 - Brian Lowe is the manager of Youthline Otago. He is also the LifeKeepers National Supreme Award Winner 2018 in recognition of his outstanding contribution to suicide prevention in Otago and Aotearoa New Zealand.


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