Children pondering suicide

South Canterbury children as young as 8 are seeking help for suicidal thoughts, according to a counsellor.

The number of suicides in South Canterbury has remained steady over the last couple of years, but is still higher than the national average.

The most recent figures available from the coroner's office show 43 people killed themselves in South Canterbury from 2007 to 2011. This equates to an annual rate of 18.2 per 100,000 population, the second-highest figure by health board area.

Tairawhiti (Gisborne) had the highest rate, of 19.1, while the lowest suicide rate was in the Capital and Coast DHB area, at 7.5.

Nationwide those aged 15 to 24 form the highest percentage of suicides, according to coroners' reports. Local counsellors working with youth and the elderly tell the same story.

"I have children as young as 8 and 9 saying, ‘I want to die'," said Marion Williams, a counsellor for the Timaru and Fairlie region.

"I work from the trauma model - essentially how people react to different situations. I look at their emotional response to traumatic situations. I believe that medication does not resolve the pain and suffering.

"The Government needs to look behind the term ‘depression' and dig deeper into a person's psyche to discover the causes behind their situation," Williams said.

Suicidal thoughts are often dependent on some sort of traumatic experience, she said.

"I work with people who want to live - who do not want to have those thoughts anymore. About 60 per cent of the people I see are females," she said.

Paul Howard, executive officer for Child Helpline (a helpline for people aged 5-15) said there has been a steady flow of youths using the service over the last couple of years.

"We have had a steady continuum of self-harm over the years in that age group. As an organisation, we reach out to children aged 5-15.

"The fact that we have any youth under the age of 15 reaching out for help is worrying. But we never turn anyone away. We have spare capacity so a call will always be answered," Howard said.

For the years 2009-11, the female to male ratio was 1:6 in terms of hospital treatment for self-harm - excluding patients who were only seen in an emergency department and discharged within two days.

During that period the national rate for intentional self-harm hospitalisations was 62.2 people per 100,000 population. In South Canterbury the figure was 82.6.

The number of people calling the Timaru police and threatening suicide has not changed significantly in recent years, Senior Sergeant Randall Tikitiki said.

The Timaru Herald