Suicide: Time to talk
Today's topic is not pleasant, jolly or refreshing. It is morbid, awful and depressing.
It is something we'd rather not talk about, because it's too hard, too raw.
But it's crucial that we do start talking about it, because lives are at stake.
In today's paper Timaru GP Ollie Bourke has spoken out about suicide. He's done so out of frustration about an issue he sees day in, day out, and it's getting worse.
The figures he gives are astonishing. From a practice of 3500 patients, he refers two or three a day to counselling. He estimates one patient a week attempts suicide. Two patients this year have taken their own lives.
Yet what does the general public know of this? Very little. The media is restricted in what it can say about individual cases; families are reluctant to talk because of the taboo surrounding it; and there is a fear of copycat actions.
But not talking is not working.
New Zealand has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. At around 550 last year, it was almost double the road toll.
And as Ollie Bourke says, road fatalities are accidents, suicides are not. They are preventable.
I'm aware a South Canterbury District Health Board-led group is drafting a suicide prevention action plan. That's good. Dr Bourke speaks highly of a counselling service that he says has saved lives. Great. There is a group of young people offering support. Excellent. And there are numerous other individuals and groups operating at different levels.
But a lot of this is under the radar. And people don't live their lives there.
Dr Bourke has been courageous in speaking out. So has the chief coroner, Judge Neil MacLean, who also wants more openness.
The Timaru Herald is in a position to help, but we need others to speak out. We need those directly affected to tell their stories.
We know this will not be easy for people to do, and there is an onus on us to relay these stories in an informative and non-sensational way. We'd like to do this in print and online, and we want to use the social media channels young people use.
In short, we want your stories to be meaningful, to make a difference.
It will take courage. But not talking is not working.
Do you have the courage?
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or reporter Megan Miller at email@example.com 027 214 9154.
- The Timaru Herald