Suicides

September 19th, 2011 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Matthew Backhouse in the Herald reported:

Families of victims have urged Prime Minister John Key to consider a review of the “abusive” coronial inquest system.

The meeting comes after a spate of youth suicides have rocked communities in Masterton and the small Bay of Plenty logging town of Kawerau in recent months.

Suicide prevention group Casper, and victims’ families and supporters from Kawerau, yesterday presented Mr Key with its latest strategy on tackling suicide. It calls for shifting suicide prevention efforts from mental health clinics to families and communities.

Casper spokeswoman Maria Bradshaw said the group asked Mr Key to conduct a review of the coroner’s court, which is tasked with identifying lessons to be learned from individual suicides and making recommendations to prevent further deaths. …

The group called on Mr Key to consider a Royal Commission of Inquiry into suicide, which he said he would consider.

Mr Key has already indicated his commitment to tackling the issue, having instructed his department to launch a review of the youth suicide rate, which is the highest per-capita in the developed world for girls and the third highest for boys.

I recall the first time a teenage friend of mine killed themselves. I still think of her quite often, and think about what could have been done to prevent her suicide.

But there is no one view on how best to change things, even amongst families of those who killed themselves. A different view to that of Ms Bradshaw and Casper can be found at the Vendetta on Suicide blog, specifically this post:

According to Radio New Zealand, co-founder of community suicide prevention group CASPER and bereaved mother Maria Bradshaw is to meet with Prime Minister John Key this week to discuss “a complete re-think on how to prevent suicides.”

This, frankly, scares the living bejesus out of me.

It will not be a popular view with many. Bradshaw is a grieving mother who clearly loved her son with an intensity I doubt I will be capable of comprehending until I have my own children. Grief is clearly etched on her face whenever she appears on the news. Her drive and passion to enact change are at once awe-inspiring and intimidating.

But what if the changes Maria Bradshaw and CASPER desire will cause harm to the very people they claim to represent? What they are proposing flies in the face of all current evidence. They make a number of concerning claims: according to the CASPER website’s ‘About’ page, the group believe “Suicide is a social, not medical, issue” and are lobbying for “An end to the psychotropic drugging of New Zealanders”.

There is, in my mind, a lot wrong with a group who are neither doctors, researchers, psychiatrists or psychologists encouraging the Prime Minister to ban anti-depressants, which is what I interpret their stated aims to mean. Arguments about SSRI effectiveness aside, being a suicide survivor does not automatically make you a leading authority on mental health medicine any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.

Vendetta continues:

What really concerns me, though, is CASPER’s repeatedly-stated aim of seeing media restrictions on suicide reporting lifted. The reasoning behind this desire, according to a Radio New Zealand Insight interview with Maria Bradshaw, is so that suicide survivors can ‘tell their stories’ of their loved ones to the country. With both the chief coroner and Associate Minister for Health Peter Dunne making positive noises around, as he puts it, “opening the door” for the media, CASPER may just get their wish.

Sounds reasonable? Well, maybe, except for two not-so-slight problems. Firstly, the huge and inconvenient body of evidence that reporting on suicide in a sensational manner, or printing stories that speculate on reasons for suicides and/or describe the method used are likely to result in an increase in actual suicides.  Which has to count as an own goal no matter who’s reffing.

I’ve been involved as a blogger in updating the media guidelines on suicide reporting. The guidelines are very sensible and in fact useful. Related to the guidelines is the restriction on reporting the particulars of a suicide. There is a difference of view on whether that means one can report a suicide as a suicide until the Coroner gives permission. I tend to think in the age of social media, with Facebook tribute pages and the like, an attempt to restrict reporting that a death was a suicide is unlikely to be successful. However that does not mean that any reporting should depart from the best practice guidelines on reporting where you don’t glamorise it, talk about people “successfully” killing themselves, making suicide seem like a logical solution to problems they were facing etc.

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25 Responses to “Suicides”

  1. Falafulu Fisi (2,176 comments) says:

    May be kids who want to commit suicide are unhappy in the world we live in. Perhaps they’re dreaming of being dead and alive simultaneously in 2 different worlds in some kind of Quantum Suicide.

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  2. iMP (2,152 comments) says:

    Hopefully there won’t be any silly comedians in on this debate.

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  3. Longknives (4,048 comments) says:

    Reviewing the Coronial Inquest System seems to be coming in a fucking ‘little bit late’ to me…surely the Coroner isn’t to blame??

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  4. Lee01 (2,171 comments) says:

    “recall the first time a teenage friend of mine killed themselves.”

    Eleven years ago my best friend committed suicide after years of depression, drug addiction and gambling.

    Your right, there are no easy answers, but CASPER’s approach is quite rightly described as “alarming”. I really do not think this organisation is thinking the issues through seriously enough and looking at all the evidence.

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  5. BeaB (1,948 comments) says:

    I have reservations about more reporting having seen the emotion, real and fomented, among teenagers and the intensity of their grief processes. I hesitate to call it grieving as the rituals of notes, teddy bears, flowers, soppy poems etc etc are so prevalent it is almost cliched. Any school that has been through a ‘cluster’ of suicides knows just how deep and insidious the whole catastrophe can be.
    I remember one family having an open casket at home and half the teenagers in the city trooped through, many of whom had no association at all with the deceased. Funerals can also be a cry-fest to the extent that one mother said she felt her child’s life had been taken from them a second time with so many strangers sobbing at the lectern and the cemetery.
    My experience of young suicides is that often these are troubled youths with the first signs of mental illness, drug abuse or romantic break-ups. Yes, they can perhaps be averted but families need to be very strong and loving to stop a kid set on suicide.
    I don’t think publicity helps at all as young people really have a limited concept of the finality of death but do possess a highly-developed taste for the emotional and dramatic.

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  6. Lee01 (2,171 comments) says:

    Well said BeaB.

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  7. thedavincimode (6,119 comments) says:

    iMP

    Quite right. Intelligent comedians only please.

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  8. Longknives (4,048 comments) says:

    Perhaps we could ask Sue Bradford? She being the self-appointed ‘guardian’of our children- Surely she has all the answers to youth suicide??

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  9. Bed Rater (239 comments) says:

    I’m not being a silly comedian but I think the sentence: “I recall the first time a teenage friend of mine killed themselves.” is worded in a manner which suggests such a tragic outcome is anything but final.

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  10. mikenmild (8,798 comments) says:

    Longknives
    I assume that you didn’t know Sue Bradford lost a son to suicide.

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  11. Longknives (4,048 comments) says:

    I refuse to believe it Mikenmild. Sue being the self-appointed ‘expert’ on raising NZ children surely has the perfect family??

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  12. thedavincimode (6,119 comments) says:

    “so that suicide survivors can ‘tell their stories’ of their loved ones to the country”

    Good grief. Will we be forced to listen?

    Once again, a complex issue gets the ‘one size fits all’ treatment.

    Perhaps we should focus efforts on addressing the issue more effectively, and especially where mental health is not an issue. I think that most people in this country are aware that suicide occurs and has not yet gone out of fashion.

    If so-called ‘suicide survivors’ feel the need to compete with each other in the 1400m Public Outpouring of Grief Stakes, then let them have their own little club to do it.

    I wonder whether in fact this new politically correct behaviour perversely glorifies suicide amongst kids in circumstances where mental health isn’t an issue. Whether kids in their fucked up way develop the appalling notion that it would somehow be great to have everyone wailing and nashing over them. Hardly an expert, just sayin’.

    As for those who are susceptible for mental health reasons, its interesting that Whaleoil and John Kirwan have both commented publicly to the effect that exercise has a very positive impact on depression. Are there are in fact tools other than drugs? The people I’ve known who stopped the drugs wound up doing the biz sadly. They didn’t do it with the publicity in mind; they did it because without the drugs they just couldn’t find the strength to live. They have left a pretty poignant legacy for me but in the circumstances I can’t see how a blaze of publicity would have helped anyone left behind – including potential suicide victims.

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  13. david (2,482 comments) says:

    Hey, how about we try repressing news about suicides, we shut down discussion and pro-actively encourage the media to not even report the fact that a death was suicide. How about we shout down and drive initiatives like “fight-for-life” and increased discussion about suicide and its contributing causes, out of business. How about we get some academics to band together and tell the world that they know best. How about we scare-monger that opnness will encourage further suicides and that those promoting discussion and improved social intercourse as possible ways forward will somehow be responsible for each future suicide if such radical ideas are entertained. ….. oh wait. Jim Anderton led the charge on that one – quite successfully as I recall.

    Didn’t work

    Time for the traditional approach to be heaved out and for the true agony of this blight on our kids to be exposed to some sunlight and discussion. Sorry Lee, those who would sweep it under the carpet have had their day and it is past time for some honesty to surround this subject. Of course there is no instant “cure” and we will continue tio suffer the loss of some of our future but just perhaps the proponents of a chemical solution need to step back for a while and allow people who recognise that it is a whole society that is in trouble rather thanh just some individual kids who need treatment.

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  14. Martin Gibson (206 comments) says:

    The trouble with relaxing the rules around reporting is similar to the problems of liberalising drug laws — namely people who are not very bright.
    I went to a youth careers day in Gisborne a couple of years ago and there was a loop video made by a church playing to the kids.
    One of the people holding forth about finding their way in life was a young girl who had tried to hang herself but the rope snapped, and that’s when she knew the Lord had intervened and there was something for her in life.
    If they are going to relax those laws, they had better put a fair amount of idiot-proofing in place before they do, because with the best will in the world, it’s a hard one to get right, and it is a bad one to get wrong.

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  15. vendetta (60 comments) says:

    thedavincimode, you’re quite correct – there are a number of ‘natural’ alternatives proven in studies to help with mild to moderate depression, which can be tried before jumping straight to the meds. Hoping to cover these at some stage in a future post.

    It’s not an all or nothing solution, david. There’s currently very little the media is actually restricted from doing by the Coroner’s Act. The one and only thing they are unable to do is report an individual’s death as being from suicide until it is ruled so by the coroner. They can, for example, write positive articles about the community work being done to prevent suicide. Run ‘interest’ stories on the recovery of people who have attempted suicide to a better state of mental health. They can provide commentary on depression, its causes, and its (admittedly imperfect) cures. They can write about any number of things – just not the gory details of individual cases.

    If the media are allowed to report suicide in any way they see fit, an increase in this kind of reporting is likely to be the result, which isn’t really helpful to the “discussion”. Martin Gibson – spot on, it’s just too important for there to be no legal protections or, as you put it, ‘idiot-proofing’.

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  16. vendetta (60 comments) says:

    eh, link fail. Try again.

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  17. BeaB (1,948 comments) says:

    davincimode
    If so-called ‘suicide survivors’ feel the need to compete with each other in the 1400m Public Outpouring of Grief Stakes, then let them have their own little club to do it.

    Well said. Our media are so disgustingly voyeuristic that we would be subjected to some awful crap that would do no good at all to anyone, except perhaps the attention-seekers and sob sisters.

    David – no-one is ‘sweeping it under the carpet’. There are just some things better left out of the media glare. I don’t think it is necessarily a society problem. Not one member of our extended family or network of friends has committed suicide as far back as I can go. I believe strongly drugs and mental illness are at the root of most suicides, still proportionately a tiny number.
    And it is interesting countries like England also beat themselves up for the ‘worst youth suicide rates’. Why do we all compete for these statistics?

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  18. BlairM (2,266 comments) says:

    Some fullas came up with a good idea around 224 years ago. I quite like it:

    [The Government] shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    I think it works pretty well.

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  19. David Garrett (5,131 comments) says:

    As a “survivor” of mental illness for more than 30 years I am always very concerned when people – whether it be the Church of Scientology, or Whaleoil or this group – advocate “no psychotrophic drugs”. The raw reality is that it has become clearer and clearer over the past 30 years (believe me, I have studied it) that antidepressant medication is the best therapy for those with debilitating depression – the kind that no-one can understand unless they have had it; the kind that makes one feel there is nothing but black empty despair. The kind that 100 years ago led men to cut their throats with a cutthroat razor rather than face the next day, or the next hour.

    For every Cam Slater (interestingly he and I have had totally different experiences with the same drug) there are 100 of me. That is not for one moment to denigrate Cam and others who have tried “alternative” methods: diet, exercise, TM, whatever. They are all shown to have positive effects for mild to moderate depression. I dont know Cam personally, so I dont know exactly what regime has worked for him. Whatever it is, all power to him and others like him.

    For me, I have long ago reconciled myself to the need for a daily dose of what I think as “insulin for the head”. After “going off the meds” a few times and ending up in the middle of black hole, that’s what works for me. I literally thank whatever it is agnostics thank for the development of “psychotrophic drugs”. Without them it is more likely than not that I would no longer be here.

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  20. vendetta (60 comments) says:

    BlairM, it sounds profound, and there are very sound and obvious reasons why the government should as a general rule not interfere in the freedom of the press.

    But in reality there are a number of instances where freedom of the press is, and should be curtailed – particularly around criminal cases during legal proceedings. This can be either to protect victims (esp of sexual assault) or prevent the outcome of a jury trial being influenced by media coverage. And, in the case of the Coroner’s Act regarding suicide media coverage, to prevent incorrect speculation and assign some level of privacy, as well as protect vulnerable invididuals who might be influenced by sensationalist reporting.

    (and yes, sometimes these laws are poorly applied – as in the recent case of the sexual assault comedian. But that doesn’t make them less valid).

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  21. TEO (33 comments) says:

    This is an important issue. Let us tread carefully.

    By way of example, whenever Once Were Warriors is broadcast it is followed by a spate of suicides and suicide attempts, primarily by young females in South Auckland.

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  22. vendetta (60 comments) says:

    Do you have a link for the Once Were Warriors claim TEO? Geniunely curious, thanks.

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  23. TEO (33 comments) says:

    Psychologist / Suicide Prevention talk, Vendetta. I’ll try to track down something concrete for you. Always tricky with suicide issues. Part of the dilemma!

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  24. TEO (33 comments) says:

    OK Vendetta, best I can do is: “word of mouth from a SPINZ or Mental Health Foundation staffer at a suicide prevention workshop a couple of years ago”. Appears to be ‘common knowledge’ in that industry.

    Sorry can’t be more specific, but try those organisations for more precise details. Not exactly the kind of stat you can just google unfortunately. Again, that’s the catch 22 with suicide reporting eh?

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  25. vendetta (60 comments) says:

    Indeed! I’ve heard it mentioned before but would be interesting to see the data. Cheers anyway TEO

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