New Zealand was recently judged to be the world’s eight happiest country according to Gallap Poll Data that appeared in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
That report highlights just another startling disconnect within New Zealand, which often happens when perceptions don’t marry with hard facts. We wonder to what degree that is caused by the current restrictions on the reporting of suicides in the country.
New Zealand is said to have some of the world’s most restrictive suicide reporting laws that bind not only the press but also coroners. The latter are prevented from releasing any information other than name, age, occupation and finding of self-inflicted death.
The reason for these draconian laws are supposed to be to avoid copycat deaths and to prevent journalists from sensationalising or romanticising suicide.
Another less well known reason is that New Zealand culture just doesn’t wash its dirty laundry in public, suicide is seen as a shameful act that has to be hushed-up because its a failure of Kiwi staunchness. Unfortunately this means that the causes of suicide are never explored, talked about or dealt with properly.
The public release of more detailed information could have a positive benefit – bringing the issue out into the open and raising awareness of it could help to save lives.
Even though New Zealand’s annual suicide numbers are around 540 people, 50% more than it’s road toll, little about suicide ever makes it into the public domain, whilst road traffic accidents are reported on in detail. In addition, there are 5,000 hospitlizations every year as a result of a suicide attempt.
It’s little wonder then that New Zealand youth have the highest rates of suicide in the world. The country, along with Norway, is unusual in that its rates for young adults are greater than for older people. Most OECD countries have higher suicide rates for older people.
The methods used to achieve self destruction aren’t always officially recorded as suicide either, the true figure is even worse. Deaths through deliberate alcohol abuse are harder to quantify but it’s bad enough for the Chief Coroner to announce that he is shocked and frustrated by the high number of very young teens (some as young as 13) that drink themselves to death in his country.
Is New Zealand really one of the world’s happiest countries, or one that just thinks it is because it isn’t allowed to know the real truth?
For as long as the issue is kept in the shadows hundreds of young people will continue to die desperately and needlessly.
People dealing with a suicide in the family are literally left to clean up the mess – police provide cleaning services to the families of homicide victims but not to those of suicides. The mother of school boy Toran Henry spoke at the launch of Community Action on Suicide Prevention, Education and Research (CASPER) – a support group set up to help families dealing with suicide. The group is campaigning for suicide to be talked about in public:
“”If it could happen to an average middle class Takapuna family – it could happen to any family,” Ms Bradshaw said. She said she cries “80 per cent of the time” and has lost her home, job and friends after the death of her son.
“Suicide is such a taboo. I’ve lost almost all my friends – apart from my son’s friends – since Toran died. People don’t know what to say. I see the fear in their eyes. They’ll cross the street and look the other way,”
Around 30 people attended the meeting and the Herald reported that at the front of the room there were 541 candles, lighted in remembrance of those who took their lives last year.
Mrs Bradshaw also spoke out about the lack of mental health support for people with mental illnesses, saying
“Sadly one of those candles is for a woman who, when she got the letter from ACC which said she was not sufficiently diagnosed with clinical depression, she killed herself that night,” Ms Bradshaw said.
She said her group hoped to review the coroner’s records on suicide every year to monitor how and why so many young people are committing suicide. ” Read the full Herald report here