Several years ago, against the advice of many, restrictions on discussing suicide in the news media were lifted.
with the best of intentions, argued that our suicide problem had to be
brought into the open in order to change things.
Opponents relied on
research showing that wider discussion of suicide tended to tip already vulnerable people over the edge.
Now the figures are in. New Zealand is
enduring a big jump in suicides, particularly in the 18-24 age group, and
experts are again wondering whether we are discussing it too
Coupled with a continual push in parliament every year for the
introduction of euthanasia, and the accompanying sympathetic news media
coverage glamorizing what is in effect a culture of death, is it any surprise
that vulnerable people are seizing opportunities to top themselves and add to
the national hand-wringing that is building up?
There would be few
adults who haven't - even if only for a split second - considered the option
in response to what seems like an overwhelming problem at the
Reasons for suicide are complex. Commentators argue economic
pressure is a factor, and on the surface that is undoubtedly true. But it is
more about 'expectations'. Our media and society create expectations about
what life should be like in NZ, and if life doesn't match the dream we get
depressed.I was shocked fifteen years ago when we sent an Investigate
magazine journalist to the Philippines to discover that our suicide rate was
much higher than that country where kids raided garbage bins for food. The
people there, despite their lot, were collectively happier than rich
dissatisfied New Zealand.
Sometimes suicide is purely about
glamour, like a series of high school kids who killed themselves in 1984 in
Auckland as part of a cult of death they'd become emotionally entangled in.
They were not individually suicidal as such, but peer pressure and the
sadness spread like a virus.
The bigger issue is: is talking about it
every day in the media, and endorsing it as an option via euthanasia, sending
a blunt message to the vulnerable? We cannot on the one hand decry suicide,
yet on the other speak up in favour of killing yourself in other
circumstances. A mentally unwell person doesn't make the fine distinction
between physical pain from a terminal illness and the mental pain they
themselves are suffering - they just hear community support for
Maybe it's time to think again about how much attention we give
suicides in the media.