Suicide an NZ 'epidemic'

Last updated 05:01 06/05/2014
Let's start the conversation nboone wants to have

LIFE TO HONOUR: Lower Hutt man Jerome Perez and Fi Szpetnar-Perez.

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I am a person bereaved by suicide.

My husband, Jerome, died on the afternoon of Friday, March 28, 2008.

He was 40 years old. He left behind a wife, a son and a stepdaughter who will never be the same.

It is said that suicide is cowardly. I disagree. I don't think I could do it.

Jerome was no coward, he was a man with an illness that robbed him of his essence and his ability to see his own worth. He had often said that we would be better off without him, but he was wrong, and now he will never know.

There were more than 700 people at his funeral, all paying homage to a man many professed to love and know well.

Where were these people when he struggled day to day with his demons and thoughts?

There was only a handful that truly knew him and had been allowed to enter his world of pain. It wasn't a pleasure to be part of that inner circle, but it was an honour to be trusted with the depths of his despair.

There were times after Jerome died that I wondered how I could carry on, but with the help of some very good friends and the amazing folk at Skylight, I came to realise that the only way to honour Jerome's life was to ensure that I made mine count.

I also realised that there were many more people out there that were living with this and they needed to know they were not alone.

The prevention of suicide is something I am extremely passionate about.

The solution is in social connectivity, caring about ourselves and others, accepting and embracing our differences, and asking the hard questions like 'are you ok?' and then waiting for the answer. Even more importantly it's being prepared to stand by that person if that answer is "I'm ok", when clearly they are not.

The number of people that died by suicide in New Zealand for the year ended June 2013 was more than double those killed on our roads. There is a lot of media and advertising around our road toll, and it's reducing. Suicides are not.

We have the highest per capita youth suicide rate in the developed world for girls and third-highest for boys. It is a daily tragedy.

It could be easy to dismiss these as just figures, but suicide is about real people who could see no other way.

For every person who dies by suicide there are at least 10 close family and friends affected. This means at least 5410people were reeling from this devastation in the last year.

This is an epidemic.

Suicide is often spoken about in hushed tones. It is the shroud of silence, the shame of illness. Not talking about it isn't working. People are still dying.

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The media is still hamstrung by legislation in how they report suicide. When a sudden death occurs it hits the headlines, then if it is deemed to be suicide nothing more is reported.

You cannot even have a death notice with suicide as the cause of death, instead we have "suddenly at home" or some other equally inadequate euphemism.

Survivors and families need to speak about their experiences. They need to stand up and demystify mental illness across genders and cultures.

There are things we can do to help.

First, we must keep ourselves mentally healthy, have good networks, communicate with others, and be honest with ourselves if things are getting too much.

Research (The Interpersonal Psychological Theory of Suicide Prevention ) shows the two things that prompt a desire to suicide are feeling you don't belong and feeling you are a burden rather than an asset to your friends/whanau/community.

It suggests the key to suicide prevention is creating a sense of belonging and a sense that you make a valued contribution. Inclusion and participation are critical.

We need to start the conversation today with our family, friends, neighbours, workmates, acquaintances and even strangers to stop this epidemic.

Don't be part of the problem by ignoring it, be part of the solution by talking about positive mental health. It takes strength to seek help.

One thing that my experiences have taught me is that you cannot breathe for another person, no matter how much you want to.

You also can't take away their pain but you can be there for them.

Where to get help:

- Lifeline: 0800 543 354 - Provides 24-hour telephone counselling

- Youthline: 0800 376 633 or free text 234 - Provides 24-hour telephone and text counselling services for young people

- Samaritans: 0800 726 666 - Provides 24-hour telephone counselling.

- Tautoko: 0508 828 865 - provides support, information and resources to people at risk of suicide, and their family, whanau and friends.

- Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (noon to midnight)

- Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (4pm - 6pm weekdays)

- Skylight suicide support

In an emergency or if you feel you or someone you know is at risk, please call 111

For information about suicide prevention, see

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