Prayer not enough to prevent suicide
Christian man Paul Humphreys said if there was any hope of reducing youth suicide rates in New Zealand, it was about time the church community addressed it.
Humphreys said the church's approach of sweeping mental health issues and youth suicide under the rug needed to change.
"I got to a point where I was tired of picking up the pieces," he said.
"What the church needs to be doing is building fences at the top of the cliff, not being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff."
Humphreys is the South Island co-ordinator for Scripture Union, an organisation which facilitates Christian youth camps. However, youth suicide prevention has come to the forefront of his work.
Humphries will lead a free two-day community seminar in Christchurch next month at the Cashmere Presbyterian Church to address youth suicide prevention.
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"This is not a one-stop shop, it takes a village, it takes a community to respond to this."
New coroner figures of the 2016/2017 year released in August revealed the number of people taking their own lives in New Zealand was continuing to rise, with Canterbury at the top of the list.
"We've tried to pray it away," he said.
"Institutions and the church have been too afraid to have these conversations and do the most basic of responses and that is [to] listen."
He said the seminars were "a start" to breaking down the silence and the stigma around suicide.
"I wouldn't say it's been swept under the rug, it's more been immobilised by fear," said Silvia Purdie, a minister at Cashmere Presbyterian Church.
Purdie said some local parent teacher associations were nervous to disseminate information about the seminar for this reason.
"People were afraid to use the word and that talking about it would make it more likely to happen," she said.
"[But] we want to be an active part of the community in the Casebrook area and be there for the young people... and research has said we have to talk about this."
"We're not doom and gloom about young people. We believe in them and want to empower them."
The University of Canterbury's on-campus Christian support group, Christian Union, meet weekly with students to read the bible and chat.
President Jordan Simmonds said the church should be a place where people were comfortable to share if they were struggling.
"I think historically, in recent generations, [mental illness] was taboo," he said.
"It's difficult. On the one hand you have 'take medication and you'll be alright' or 'trust in God and pray more and more'.
"I can't say we have a specific outreach for students [on mental health issues]."
He said last year the group held a course on how to 'deal with mental health issues'.
The two-day youth wellbeing seminars – one aimed at speaking to young people directly, the other to parents and the wider community – will discuss ways to promote wellbeing, identifying risk factors, engage in conversation and provide further contacts.
Youth Wellbeing Seminar
- Parents and community: Friday September 22, 7.30pm.
- Youth seminar: Sunday September 24, 5pm.
- Cashmere Presbyterian Church, 2 Macmillan Ave, Cashmere, Christchurch