Mum upset teenage son's sudden death being 'glamorised'

Damian Brightwell
Damian Brightwell

Two teenage boys have died suddenly in Wainuiomata and the mother of one is pleading with young people to stop glorifying the manner of her son's death via text messages and social media.

Tonie Brightwell told The Dominion Post of similarities between the deaths of her 16-year-old son Damian Brightwell and his close friend Damon Hills, 17.

Since her son's death five weeks ago, she had been made aware of young people sending text and online messages making light of suicide. Ms Brightwell was angry her son's death was being "glamorised".

"We need to get the message out that they need to think further than the next five minutes. They need to think about next week. They need to think about next year. They need to think about their family and friends.

"It's not OK to do this. They need to think about the mess they are leaving behind," she said.

Her family were devastated by Damian's death but they were coping better than his friends.

Pupils at Wainuiomata High School and their parents were given counselling and advice in an attempt to prevent further deaths.

"All the parents are terrified, all the officials and health people, the school, everyone is terrified," Ms Brightwell said. Her son had mental health issues, for which he was receiving help.

The Education Ministry's traumatic incident service was working with other agencies to support the school, and had helped write letters to parents. If anyone is concerned that someone they know could be at risk they should contact their GP, mental health service or school guidance counsellor, the ministry says.

Damian, known as "Skater" to his friends, died last month. He became a pupil at Wainuiomata High School in mid-2011 after moving from Taupo with his family.

Damon Hills, a former pupil who was working as a builder, died last Sunday in Wellington Hospital.

His family said it was too soon to comment, but they did want to help prevent another life being taken.

Hundreds of people, including high school pupils in uniform, remembered Damon's cheeky smile and love of cars at a funeral service in Wainuiomata on Thursday.

At the end of the service, teens were encouraged to talk about their problems and think about the future.

A New Zealand study published last month found text messaging and social media sites contributed to the deaths of eight teenagers from the same area who killed themselves in 2006.

Otago University researchers found the spread of inaccurate information and rumour, the "glorifying" of dead young people through online tribute pages, and the heightened anxiety felt in the community may have all contributed to the deaths.

Memorial Facebook pages have been created for both Damian and Damon.

At Damian's funeral last month, Life City Church Pastor Awhina Vailima challenged people to cherish life and seek help in their darkest moments.

Police had been involved in supporting the family, school and community, Hutt Valley area commander Inspector Mike Hill said.

Both deaths have been referred to the coroner.

Wainuiomata High School principal Martin Isberg declined to comment.


All self-harm threats should be taken seriously.

If you're concerned about a loved one, or are yourself feeling depressed, there is help available. Visit for a list of services in your area that can assist.


Suicide Prevention Helpline 0508 828 865

Youthline 0800 376 633

Depression 0800 111 757

Lifeline 0800 543 354

Samaritans 0800 726 666

Contact Bronwyn Torrie
Health reporter
Twitter: @brontorrie

The Dominion Post