'Taboo-ness' around suicide in New Zealand needs to end - bereaved mum


To say it's hard for Catherine Hanson-Friend to talk about her son's death is a huge understatement.

It's only been six weeks since Patrick died in a suspected suicide.

Have you been touched by suicide? Email us at newstips@stuff.co.nz

Patrick Hanson-Friend was 15 when he died by apparent suicide. He was taken from his family only six weeks ago but his ...

Patrick Hanson-Friend was 15 when he died by apparent suicide. He was taken from his family only six weeks ago but his mum is sharing her story with the hope of helping others.

The 15-year-old Southland boy's name is still on his family's voicemail message.

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Hanson-Friend wants to share her story, she wants to encourage others to start a conversation about suicide but the death of her son is still raw.

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It takes a couple of tries before Hanson-Friend is in a place where she can talk about this over the phone. Evenings are the worst.

Hanson-Friend is adamant she wants to go through with the interview and when we do talk on Thursday morning she says it's a better time. Even then she pauses every now and again to fight back tears.

She's still coming to terms with the fact her boy has died.

Patrick was a bubbly, lively teenager.

Patrick was a bubbly, lively teenager.

We're talking about suicide but Hanson-Friend struggles to use that word. She says she'll be able to talk about it more one day but not just yet.

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This isn't the first time the grief counsellor and social worker of 25 years has publicly talked about Patrick's death.

Two weeks after Patrick died, Hanson-Friend and her daughter Polly shared their story.

The Hanson-Friend family, from left, Polly, Catherine, Patrick, and Caine.

The Hanson-Friend family, from left, Polly, Catherine, Patrick, and Caine.

Most of the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, she says.

Some colleagues warned her of the risks of talking about suicide and the so-called contagion effect - the risk of copycat suicides. That's something New Zealand's legal restrictions around talking about suicide aim to curb.

But Hanson-Friend thinks New Zealand should be having this conversation.

Fairfax NZ

New Zealand has criminal laws governing what can and can't be said when it comes to suicide, or suspected suicide.

"I was and I still am very fearful that if we don't talk about it and if it's swept under the carpet then how are our young people going to be able to talk about it?"

Hanson-Friend, who is originally from the UK, says there is a "taboo-ness" around suicide in New Zealand.

This feeling that the topic is off-limits makes it difficult for parents to bring up the subject with their children.

Catherine Hanson-Friend says there is a "taboo-ness" around suicide in New Zealand.

Catherine Hanson-Friend says there is a "taboo-ness" around suicide in New Zealand.

It means a lot of young people aren't being spoken to about suicide and depression or they're being spoken to in the wrong way.

It's important to understand suicide can touch anyone, Hanson-Friend says.

"We weren't a family in crisis or turbulence or feuding. We were just a good old solid unit of four who talked to our kids.

A grief counsellor and social worker of 25 years, Catherine Hanson-Friend says she spoke openly with Patrick about ...

A grief counsellor and social worker of 25 years, Catherine Hanson-Friend says she spoke openly with Patrick about everything.

"So if it can happen to us, trust me, it can happen to others."

Patrick was a "well-connected, well-balanced...awesome all round kid", she says.

He had so much going for him. He was bubbly and lively.

Patrick was well-known in the community for his Taekwondo achievements.

Patrick was well-known in the community for his Taekwondo achievements.

He was described as a "Taekwondo prodigy", the whole community backed his sporting accomplishments.

Hanson-Friend says her son struggled at school because of his dyslexia, "but I had no idea that it would have caused him to make that decision that day."

She knows how important it is to talk openly with her children. She didn't let Patrick sit in his room alone for hours on end when he was in a teenage mood.

A few days before Patrick died, Hanson-Friend noticed he was down so the pair took some time out together to talk.

They went to McDonald's and got a milkshake, just the two of them.

The morning of Patrick's death he ate a big plate of bacon and eggs and they talked about the day ahead.

Nothing emerged to suggest the tragedy that would unfold.

After Patrick's death, about 130 kids came to see him at home.

Hanson-Friend says she wanted Patrick's friends to have the chance to say goodbye.

"I also wanted to show them this is what dead looks like. You can't come back from this."

She's aware of the risks of sensationalising Patrick's death but there's a way to talk about suicide, and talk about all death, without putting others at risk.

"I don't want to sensationalise it or sugarcoat it. It's very real. Trust me, if it can happen for us it can happen to anybody."

Ironically, the day before Patrick died she was talking to her colleague about setting up a suicide bereaved support group in Southland - something the region doesn't have.

Southland isn't alone in this. There is good work being done in communities when it comes to suicide prevention, peer support networks and grief counselling, but more can be done to educate and support Kiwis about suicide.

Hanson-Friend wants to use her story to help others talk about their feelings, their issues, and their experiences.


The Mental Health Foundation's free resource and information service will refer callers to some of the helplines below:

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 talk@youthline.co.nz

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 www.whatsup.co.nz.

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.

 - Stuff

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