Steps to reduce youth suicide | The Jackal

12 Sept 2017

Steps to reduce youth suicide

Labour Leader Jacinda Ardern speaking
at the suicide prevention rally
Last Sunday marked the fourteenth annual World Suicide Prevention Day where various campaigns were undertaken to increase awareness across the globe. This included in New Zealand where 606 pairs of shoes, representing the people who had taken their own lives over the last year were displayed on parliamentary grounds.

How can it be that we have the worst youth suicide rate in the world you might ask? After all, New Zealand is a great little country with lots to offer both young and old people alike.

Much of that shameful suicide statistic has to do with the widening gap between rich and poor. But there are other negative dynamics that must also be addressed before our stubborn suicide rate will start to decline.

1. Start rewarding young people instead of punishing them

We all get it that being tough on crime is a vote winner. However this type of campaigning has run its course and must change in order for government’s to tackle through legislative changes our unacceptable rate of youth suicide.

The punitive prison system in New Zealand has clearly failed to reduce crime. Instead it simply hardens young offenders into worse criminals and often propels them into a life of law breaking. This is a negative dynamic in our society that must be addressed in order to reduce the damage crime causes.

The answer is to provide young people with realistic options like trades training and apprenticeships. Leaving 90,000 NEETs to twiddle their thumbs when gangs offer young people what is essentially a career path out of poverty isn’t something any government should simply rest on their laurels and accept.

2. Increase rehabilitation services especially for young people

Drug and alcohol abuse, even in wealthier families, is a key factor in the unchecked suicide rate. Over the last nine years many rehabilitation services have been reduced in size or closed down due to underfunding. This was a very big government blunder and needs to be rolled back in order to help reduce our world leading youth suicide rate.

Over 70% of youth suicides may be complicated by drug and alcohol issues.

3. Increase young people’s incomes

Financial hardship is another main factor in things like family violence, which adversely affects young people’s mental health. Over the last nine years young people have had their wages reduced significantly while the cost of living has increased exponentially.

This means even if a young person has a job it in many cases doesn’t meet their everyday expenses. The only way to reduce financial hardship and the stress this causes is to increase young people’s wages and benefits.

4. Conduct a public discussion about suicide

Undertaking a public discussion about suicide and the services available to prevent it is particularly important in reducing the amount of young people taking their own lives. There really is no better way to inform at risk youth that they aren’t alone and help is only a phone call away.

Most news agencies are already on board with the discussion to highlight the unacceptably high suicide rate. In fact the NZ Herald recently ran a very good series of articles called Break the Silence, which is well worth revisiting.

However publicly discussing delicate topics like suicide must be undertaken with the utmost care. Politicians and commentators should at all times stick to topics that will be help and not hinder the discussion.

The recent accusations by National party MP Simon O’Connor that Jacinda Ardern was encouraging elderly, disabled, and sick New Zealander’s to take their own lives was highly detrimental to the overall discussion about suicide prevention. Only by developing a conscientious public discourse on the matter can we hope to reduce the numbers of people taking their own lives.

5. Consider the consequences to young people before implementing policy

When the government makes a decision that will affect young people’s lives, such changes should be in accordance with the best outcomes and whatever consequences the decision might cause. 
For example, if the minimum wage isn’t increased in line with inflationary pressure this will cause more hardship for young people and as a consequence could lead to more suicide. Therefore the minimum wage should be increased to reduce young people’s financial hardship.

Policy consequences should be a factor in all governmental decision making.

6. Educate families about available services

A lack of knowledge about what to do when things go wrong for young people and their families means that the Police are often left picking up the pieces. This is a bottom of the cliff solution that doesn’t actually work to reduce the suicide rate and the societal harm it causes. 
Early intervention is by far the better option because it actually saves lives and saves money. Last year suicide in New Zealand was estimated to cost the economy approximately $2 billion per annum.

In this regard the announcement this week by Labour for 100 more Plunket and Tamariki Ora nurses for vulnerable families and the Green’s free counselling for under 25 year olds and a zero-suicide approach are great steps in the right direction. 
These policies will likely pay for themselves by preventing youth suicide.

7. Provide teachers with enough time to get to know their students

Wraparound services are essential in the fight against an increasing youth suicide rate. But when there’s a break down in the family dynamic, who exactly will know that a young person might be contemplating suicide? The best people to recognise there’s a problem are those who work with young people on a daily basis, like teachers.

The government should allow teachers more time with their students and incentivise them to look out for at risk youth. This is not only good for educational outcomes, but will help to reduce the youth suicide rate by allowing a more targeted and cost effective approach.

Where to get help

Lifeline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 354
Depression Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 111 757
Healthline (open 24/7) - 0800 611 116
Samaritans (open 24/7) - 0800 726 666
Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
Youthline (open 24/7) - 0800 376 633. You can also text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email
0800 WHATSUP children's helpline - phone 0800 9428 787 between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at
Kidsline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 754. This service is for children aged 5 to 18. Those who ring between 4pm and 9pm on weekdays will speak to a Kidsline buddy. These are specially trained teenage telephone counsellors.
Your local Rural Support Trust - 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)
Alcohol Drug Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 787 797. You can also text 8691 for free.