July 12, 2017

Why are so many teens in New Zealand killing themselves?

Experts look at causes behind the headline numbers and at possible solutions.

Mariah Herbert is 20 years old and lives in Northland, New Zealand. A decade ago, she lost her older sister to suicide, and last year a friend for the same reason. She has tried to end her life at least twice, and has a younger sister who has also contemplated taking hers. But her story is not unique.

According to a recent UNICEF report, New Zealand has the highest youth suicide rate in the developed world for teenagers aged 15-19 years old. The rate is 15.6 suicides per 1000 people, which is twice as high as the United States and five times that of the Britain - numbers that have been largely steady for about two decades.

The country has a complicated relationship with the word "suicide". For the past few decades, schools have been advised not use it, or discuss it in the open. The media has been under gag order for fear of contagion. And laws around it are complex. Recently, though, it has come out of the shadows in the form of prevention and awareness initiatives.

Experts have been looking into the many reasons youth suicide is a such a huge problem. School bullying records are poor, there are high rates of family violence and child abuse. Potentially, there are also cultural reasons - Maori/Pacific Islanders are particularly affected. Others say the issue is simply one of teen confidence and low self-esteem that is being mislabeled and poorly handled due to stigma. And suicide has become political. The government is working on a strategy for suicide prevention and spending millions on initiatives.

On the next Stream, we'll take a closer look at what’s behind the high youth suicide rate in New Zealand, and discuss potential solutions to solving the problem.

Joining us on this episode of The Stream:

Mike King @themikeking
Mental health advocate

Mariah TeRiaki-Herbert
Suicide awareness advocate

Shaun Robinson
Chief Executive, Mental Health Foundation

David Clark @davidclarkNZ 
Opposition spokesperson for Health, Labour Party

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