Booze reform an opportunity missed - academic

A leading Auckland researcher in suicide prevention says the Government missed a trick when the alcohol laws passed through parliament unchanged last month.

During a webinar marking the 10th annual World Suicide Prevention Day yesterday Professor Gregory Luke Larkin, from Auckland University, discussed the preventable causes of suicide, which included alcohol and drug abuse, particularly in young people.

The US academic, relatively new to the country, said a stroll through the city in the evening made the state of play starkly obvious.

"Walking over the bodies of young people vomiting on the streets - you have to look at alcohol," Larkin said.

Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean last week released annual suicide statistics that showed an increase in suicides among youths as well as Maori and Pacific Islanders nationwide.

In total last year there were 547 suicides, including one boy aged between five and nine, 11 children aged between 10 and 14 and 80 people aged 15 to 19.

Dr Annette Beautrais also spoke at yesterday's internet-streamed presentation and highlighted the fact New Zealand's suicide rate of 11 in every 100,000 was the highest in the English-speaking world.

Globally, more than one million people take their own lives every year and she estimated that figure would likely rise to 1.5 million before long.

Beautrais said suicide in this country was "under funded and under addressed", which meant there were common misconceptions, such as teens being the most at risk group.

Statistics from 2010 showed it was people in the top age bracket who most frequently committed suicide but funding was often driven towards young people because it was seen as more tragic.

The researchers said one of the most effective methods of suicide prevention was simply withdrawing the means and pointed to research regarding Auckland's Grafton Bridge.

When safety barriers were removed between 1997 and 2001, suicide attempts were almost six times as frequent as before and after.

With the development of modern technology and the rise in cyber bullying Larkin said there were even more factors affecting people's mental health but he said it could also be used to protect those at risk.

He had seen examples "through the blogosphere" where someone had confessed to having suicidal thoughts and the online community had rushed to their assistance, providing support and information.

Though there had been much research on the topic in recent years, Beautrais said practical progress was slow because it was so difficult to pilot programmes.

However, she stressed there was hope.

"We can do something about this problem," she said in closing.

The Health Research Council of New Zealand will hold the Suicide Prevention 2012 conference at Ellerslie Event Centre on September 28.

Auckland Now