Farmers urged to discuss suicide

NICCI MCDOUGALL
Last updated 05:00 03/04/2014

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Suicide is more prevalent in the farming community than the city and people need to talk about it, the Southland Federated Farmers president says.

Russell MacPherson's views come after the national organisation came out in support of the Law Commissions' recommendation to allow media to report a suspected suicide.

Statistics from 2008 to 2011 show the number of suicides has been higher in rural areas rather than urban areas.

The latest Ministry of Health statistics show in 2011 there were 12.5 deaths per 100,000 population in rural areas compared with 10.6 deaths per 100,000 population in urban areas.

MacPherson conceded the media should be able to report a suspected suicide but agreed the method should not be reported, because he believed it could influence copycat suicides.

Reporting the details of a suicide is protected by the right to freedom of expression in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

Suicide was more prevalent in the farming community for several reasons, MacPherson said.

Agriculture was a stressful occupation because farmers had to deal with the climate daily and did not know, from year to year, what their financial position might be.

Other factors included some southern farmers being isolated and farmers, especially men, did not tend to open up and talk about their issues, MacPherson said.

There were several services available to southern farmers, including the Southland Rural Support Trust, but people needed to ask for the help, he said.

National Federated Farmers Mental Health spokeswoman Jeanette Maxwell said allowing a suspected suicide to be reported in the media would help start the discussion of how the issue could be fixed.

In 2010, rural New Zealanders were 43 per cent more likely to commit suicide than urban Kiwis.

Several farmers had started coming forward following Federated Farmer's work to get the rural community talking about mental health and suicide.

Last year the organisation started the When Life's a Bitch campaign, which included a wallet card with numbers of support services and organisations that supported the campaign.

The Mental Health and Wellbeing group with representatives from different farming organisations has since been formed. nicci.mcdougall@stl.co.nz

RECOMMENDATIONS

The Law Commission recommends: The current prohibitions should be repealed and replaced by provisions that only limit reporting the method of the suicide and the fact that the death was a suicide. However, a person may describe a death as a suspected suicide, where the facts support that. The restrictions should apply to any person who is reporting the details of a suicide death and should only apply to deaths that occur in New Zealand. A person should be able to apply to the chief coroner for an exemption from those restrictions although applications are expected to be rare. The Minister of Health should be required to prepare a new set of standards for reporting suicide and must consult with representatives from the media and mental health interests. The minister should also be required to implement an ongoing programme to promote and support the standards and to evaluate their success at achieving low-risk suicide reporting. The government will consider the recommendations and respond by September. 

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- The Southland Times

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