Expert says talk about suicide
United States professor Hatim Omar held a captivated audience in Putaruru last week when he gave a presentation focusing on the prevention of youth suicide.
New Zealand has the highest rates of suicide in the OECD for youth aged 15 to 19 at 15.9 per 100,000 people, about double the rate of the United States and Australia according to an OECD report on child wellbeing last year.
The University of Kentucky professor of paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology said one of the obstacles facing New Zealand was the lack of openness about the subject and the media should be able to report the topic openly.
Under current laws media are restricted in what they can report on suicides.
‘‘If we talk about it we are more likely to prevent suicide,’’ Prof Omar said. ‘‘We made a difference in the US when we opened up about the subject. It’s not about glamourising or demonising suicide, neither is good, what we need is to be objective and truthful and most importantly show the human part and not the numbers. This is the problem in New Zealand, they talk about figures but they never show the faces the numbers represent, the grieving mother, siblings and father. It’s the human stories that will register with people.’’
Mr Omar said there was a ‘‘ big disconnect’’ between adults and teens and that bridging that gap would help decrease the suicide rate.
‘‘ We need to connect on their level – understand them, legitimise their feelings and understand the pressures they face like the electronic explosion that they are exposed to. People need to know that we are dealing with new problems that we didn’t have to worry about before like the choking game, vampire culture, cyber bullying and those types of things that we never had to deal with. If we all learn to be caring adults and supportive we can help reduce the rates.’’
In 2000 the professor planned a one-year ‘‘massive awareness campaign’’ but 10 years later, that programme had outgrown the original concept. Mr Omar said that as the suicide prevention project grew he had a steady influx of calls and emails from teenagers asking for help. As well as devoting much of the last decade to helping them, he had been passing on information so others could do the same. Kentucky had recorded a steady decline in both suicide and attempted suicide in the past 10 years, Prof Omar said, and he hoped New Zealand could learn from his experience.
PROFESSOR: Hatim Omar gave a lecture on youth suicide prevention.