Expert aiming to stop youths killing themselves

SIENA YATES
Last updated 05:00 14/05/2013

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An expert in youth suicide prevention, who has already helped Waikato youth, is returning to New Zealand for a series of workshops to spread the word even further.

Dr Hatim Omar, a paediatrics professor at Kentucky University in the United States, is also chair of the successful Stop Youth Suicide campaign.

He said he was drawn to New Zealand by a desire to tackle our youth suicide rates as he felt little was being done to prevent it.

"I've been working with teens for 30 years and I genuinely care what happens to them," he said.

"Here in New Zealand, your youth suicide rate is the highest in the world . . . so I'm happy to come in and figure something out if I can.

"I'm not trying to tell people what they're doing is wrong, but one entity is not going to solve it all. It needs effort from everyone."

Dr Omar's yearly visits started in 2010, at first to promote awareness and encourage conversation about suicide, because "blocking out the problem . . . only makes it worse", but subsequent visits were more action focused.

"We wanted to start actually doing something because . . . if you look at the data, youth suicide was getting worse and worse, so whatever was being done wasn't adequate.

"We wanted to share that you need to start from the grass roots - parents, schools, communities - in conjunction with the professionals, to make it work," Dr Omar said.

"Until then, most of what was being done here was, ‘okay, maybe wait until someone's suicidal and then treat them,' which, more often than not, does not work."

His visits have already led to community programmes being formed, such as the South Waikato Stop Youth Suicide group, which is already starting to have an effect.

Dr Omar said this round of workshops aimed to further the affects already taking place and to hopefully spread the word and set new actions in motion.

"Teenagers don't need much. Many times just having someone they can talk to means the difference between life and death."

Dr Omar will speak at Wintec at 6.30pm tomorrow, with guest speakers Dr Said Shahtahmasebi and Lindie Smith, the South Waikato Stop Youth Suicide and Waikato District Health Board's Population Health promoter.

Other workshops will be at: The Tokoroa Sports and Events Centre, 10am, on Thursday, and the Rotorua Council Chambers, 8.30am, on Friday.

SUICIDE TOLL

Latest figures from the Coronial Services Unit's Provisional Suicide Statistics show the total suicide deaths per year in NZ:

2007/08 540
2008/09 531
2009/10 541
2010/11 558
2011/12 547
Total over five years 2717

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Note: Youth suicides (age 15-19) rose from 56 to 80, the average number of suicides per year for this age group during the past four years is 55. The majority of all NZ suicides were male. (74 per cent) 28 per cent of all NZ suicides were unemployed. The most common form of suicide was by hanging (61 per cent), followed by poisoning and overdose.

HOW TO GET HELP

Suicide Prevention Helpline 0508 828 865

Youthline 0800 376 633

Depression 0800 111 757

Samaritans 0800 726 666

- Waikato Times

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