Silence and Youth Suicide

There�s been a lot of attention in the last couple of weeks and particularly the past few days on the question of youth suicide. This week that has focused strongly on the way that it is reported in the New Zealand media. Earlier in the week, a second young person from Putaruru College in the North Island died suddenly. That followed the death seven weeks earlier of a 12-year-old student who had reportedly been the victim of bullying via text and e-mail. The Education Ministry and a teachers� union asked media organisations not to publicise the second sudden death and Education Minister Steve Maharey later backed that up, by requesting no further coverage. The ministry said research showed that media coverage of suicides �glorified� the issue, suggesting that reporting on suicide might somehow make it an attractive option for other young people.

Yesterday Gregory Fortuin, the chairman of the Youth Suicide Awareness Trust, called for an end to �the tyranny of silence� around suicide. In a television interview, he said it was nonsense to suggest that if such cases were not featured in the media, young people would somehow not know about them, citing the multiplicity of modern communication devices that spread news a lot faster than the traditional news media these days. The issue is one that the media has been examining for some time, given that New Zealand law on the reporting of suicides is particularly stringent.

A submission by the Commonwealth Press Union to the justice and electoral select committee contended that �given our distressingly high suicide rates�, the law in this country was �clearly not in the public interest�. �We strongly believe responsible reporting of the scourge of suicide could provide a better understanding, lead to more discussion of alternatives and the help people can get and perhaps lead to a reduction in our high rates,� part of the submission read. Clearly, suicide is a scourge � there�s simply no other way to frame it � and New Zealand�s high rates are a cause for concern. The media is not necessarily arguing for more freedom to report the circumstances of individual cases, but for the ability to appropriately address what is an ongoing and deeply distressing problem, with a view to helping find some solutions. That, after all, is the bottom line. Our suicide rates, particularly among youth, appear to be some of the highest in the developed world and it�s an issue that has to be addressed.

Grant Shimmin
30 March 2006


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