Young People Dying | The Jackal

14 Jun 2011

Young People Dying

There's no doubt that the death of King's College student David Gaynor is a tragedy. It appears that the young man died from alcohol poisoning. This is the fourth death in seventeen months for the college that is attended by students from wealthy families. There are now hundreds of articles concerning the death with the story gripping the Television News and radio stations like an virus.

I don’t mean to cause offence, but he’s just one of many young people to die in this country each year in an epidemic of self-harm and suicide that is a serious problem with far reaching consequences.

New Zealand's media is largely ignoring the larger picture and another story that emerged this week concerning 13 reported youth suicides from the mill town of Kawarau. The suicides were committed within 18 months of each other from a small population of only 6950.

Why the disproportion of media reaction and attention to these deaths? Could it be that they place the life of a wealthy person above the life of a poor person? It certainly appears to be the case. My concern for this disparity has found a strange bedfellow with Busted Blonde writing:
Our best and brightest are in trouble. But what about the public reaction to 13 deaths of teenage boys in Kawarau?

This is a far more disturbing trend. But they are brown and they are poor. And you would think judging by the public and media reaction to their deaths compared to the deaths of the Kings College students that they don’t matter at all.

The Herald has been told a group of boys were taking cocaine, and a student told 3 News the drugs were being taken by a number of people.
The reason in my mind is that the public has been introduced to David Gaynor while the masses of other youth suicides are faceless and largely unreported. This is in part due to the media and Government's fear that such reporting could lead to further suicides. So while the news outlets turn to rumours about drug abuse at Kings College in an attempt to continue the promotion of their stories, the main issue of New Zealand's tragic suicide rate is going largely unreported.

It's a fact that the poor of this country are far more likely to take their own lives. A Ministry of Health report (PDF) in 2010 found that suicide is nearly twice as prevalent in deprived areas with suicide death at 13.3 per 100,000, which is significantly higher than the rate of 7.7 per 100,000 in the least deprived.

The youth suicide rate is a sad indictment of New Zealand's failure to address the crisis. The truth of the matter is that the opportunities that should help our youth work through the various things that lead to suicide such as depression and poverty, simply do not exist for the young to a degree that makes a significant difference. Couple this with more complicated lives and we have a recipe for disaster. I would also say that there’s a culture of ageism in New Zealand that ensures the young are repressed, not to mention our drinking culture, which adds greatly to the dysfunction.

Irrespective of socio economic status, New Zealand has the second highest male youth (15–24 years) suicide death rate and the second highest female youth suicide death rate in a comparison of 13 OECD countries.

I hate to be so clinical when we're dealing with such a difficult subject, but in 2002 each suicide was estimated to cost a total of $2,931,250. Economic costs include services used in cases of suicide and attempted suicide, and production lost due to people exiting or being absent from the workforce. The economic cost of each suicide was put at $448,250, and the non-economic cost at $2,483,000.
The Cost of Suicide report (PDF) estimated the cost of the 460 suicides and 5095 attempted suicides in 2002 at nearly $1.4 Billion. We can expect that financial cost to be far greater in 2011. The Government currently spends around $2 million each year on suicide prevention, but what is really needed is a comprehensive policy to reduce poverty, which is the underlying cause of a third of all youth suicides.

A comparison was recently made by the United Nations, which found that the gap between material deprivation of children and older people is biggest in New Zealand out of 27 countries. It found that 1 in 5 children live in poverty in New Zealand, which works out to be over 200,000 kids.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recently slammed New Zealand for its high level of child impoverishment. It said the child abuse and suicide rates due to poverty was “staggering!” Particularly amongst Maori children.
Child abuse rates in New Zealand were among the highest in countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and 20 per cent of children were living in poverty – defined as a household earning 60 per cent less than the median income.
During 2007-2009 using the after housing costs measure, child poverty increased from 22% to 25%. Perry attributes these differences to the fact that housing costs in 2009 accounted for a higher proportion of household expenditure for low-income households, than they did in the 1980s (in 1988 16% of households in the bottom income quintile spent 30% of their income on housing; in 2008 this figure was 33%).
A recent OECD report (PDF) found that:
If tax and benefit systems could be made as effective as the third best performing country in terms of the proportional reduction in child poverty (Sweden, with a reduction of around 78%), it is estimated that child poverty in OECD countries would be more than halved from 10.2 to 4.3 %, and no OECD country would have a child poverty rate above 7%.
Over 20% of New Zealand children are currently living in poverty. The Ministry of Health report showed that impoverishment clearly leads to increased suicide amongst youth. It’s the Government’s job to break that cycle through positive policies that reduce poverty.

Increasing the minimum wage and ensuring beneficiaries have enough to survive on is key to starting New Zealand on the path to recovery. Otherwise that 20% of children living in poverty is only going to increase and contribute to our shamefully high suicide rate, which costs the country dearly.
Youthline: Support for young people and their families., 0800 376 633

Kidsline: Phone counselling for children aged 9 to 13, 0800 543 754 (4pm to 6pm weekdays)

Whatsup: Counselling for children aged 5-18, 0800 942 8787 (noon to midnight)

The Word: Questions answered about sex, life and relationships
Depression Helpline: Counsellors who can find the right support for you. 0800 111 757 (8am to midnight)

Rainbow Youth: Support for gay young people and their families