Key favours loosening suicide reporting rules

Last updated 09:43 29/08/2011

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Media restrictions around the reporting of suicide are not working, Prime Minister John Key says.

The issue will be included in a full review into policies to reduce youth suicide after recent figures show the number of people taking their own lives has remained steady since 2007 at about 540 deaths per year. Higher than the 2010 road toll of 375.

Chief Coroner Neil MacLean last week released annual suicide statistics for the second time and was worried the suicide rate was not going down.

The figures show young men and Maori were most likely to commit suicide and almost 60 per cent of suicides in the year to June 2011 had a known mental health history.

Key has said, if elected in November, National would conduct a full review because it was hard to know which policies were letting young people down.

This morning he said work was already underway after he asked the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to work with all other government departments to see what could be done.

"We must be able to do better at lowering that suicide rate," he told TVNZ's Breakfast show.

Key said he was in favour of liberalising the rules around media reporting of suicides.

Currently media can report that a death was self-inflicted but not the method or any details.

While acknowledging it was a contentious point - opponents are worried reporting increases copycats - Key said the restrictions were not working.

"In the modern world what is ridiculous is we're tying the media up very tightly but actually in reality, with the social media and the like, if somebody commits suicide, a young person, I'll guarantee within half an hour to an hour there'll be a major Facebook site."

That meant imposing controls on traditional media that didn't exist for social media, he said.

The review would look at a range of things.

Key said early care and intervention, particularly for young people and those showing signs of depression, was critically important.

Otago University Professor Sunny Collings said keeping access to mental health services high on the agenda was the way to reduce suicide rates.

The official statistics underestimated the level of mental health problems present in those that took their own lives, she said.

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