Advice needed on helping suicidal

Coroner Sue Johnson
Coroner Sue Johnson

Blair Edwards told three people he wanted to end his own life before he was found dead in his Christchurch flat.

The 26-year-old's self-inflicted death has sparked a formal recommendation to the Health Ministry by Coroner Sue Johnson.

The coroner has advised the ministry to launch an advertising campaign to teach the public ways to respond to someone who has said they want to kill themselves.

"I recommend to the Ministry of Health that it provides strong advice to the public about what to do if a person says they are intending to commit suicide, or says they have engaged in suicidal behaviours, or that they want to or feel like killing themselves," she wrote.

It was the second time the coroner had ruled on a self-inflicted death whereby the deceased had told three people of their suicidal intent. It was also the second time she had made the recommendation to the ministry.

Edwards died in 2010 and the findings into his death were released today.

Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean supported Johnson's recommendation and said it was part of a bigger effort to boost public awareness around suicide.

MacLean said five years ago Johnson's recommendation would have been considered "daring" but there was mounting pressure for the "opening up of the discussion and the relaxation of the practice and procedures of talking about suicide".

"I think the general feeling is the public are quite worried about our poor suicide statistics and they want to know more about what's behind it all and what's really going on," he said.

He said it was difficult for friends and relatives when someone discussed killing themselves and Maclean agreed the public needed to be advised on how to handle the situation properly.

The Health Ministry, primary, secondary and tertiary institutions and the media all had "vital roles" to play in releasing the information, he said.

MacLean hoped the ministry would support the recommendation and take it into account when it reviewed the media guidelines next year.

The Health Ministry said it would "carefully" consider Judge Johnson's call for greater publicity around dealing with people threatening suicide.

The ministry's director of mental health Dr John Crawshaw said suicide was a complex issue that required initiatives across a range of agencies, with strong community involvement.

"Neither the Government nor services alone can prevent suicide without the input and collaboration of communities, and families recognising the role they have to play in suicide prevention."

The ministry funded a number of initiatives that supported those responding to suicide, including Suicide Prevention Information New Zealand (SPINZ) and television advertisements for people with depression, Crawshaw said.

An $8 million funding boost to strengthen communities to prevent suicide was also allocated in this year's Budget.

A new Suicide Prevention Action plan for 2013-2016 was due to be completed early next year and was expected to cover improved information for communities responding to individuals at risk of suicide, he said.

The Press