I cried this morning when I heard that another child in our community took her own life last night. That’s the fourth young person in the last year and this precious child is only a year older than our own daughter. Of course in small communities, every child is our own. These reflections and potential actions are my small way to help make sure this tragedy isn’t in vain.
Like many young people in our society, I had suicidal thoughts as a 16 year old. A girl that I liked decided she preferred someone else – I decided the world was ending and thought about how I could stop the hurt I was feeling. I don’t recall exactly what stopped me from going through with my preferred option but shortly afterwards I had a sort of spiritual rebirthing experience that gave me a new outlook on life and my place in the world, I think that helped a lot.
Over my twenty years in youth development work, the government has had numerous youth suicide prevention plans and strategies. One of the most recent initiatives, the Prime Minister’s Youth Mental Health Project came out of a major report produced for John Key by his chief science advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman. From the report’s recommendations some new government-funded services were rolled out – few of them reaching as far as Ruatoria.
So, while there is a lot of useful evidence and some published resources available in print and online, it seems the best chance we have is self-helping ourselves – as whole communities rather than as individuals.
There is a range of things I think we can do to improve the situation for our rangatahi:
- Specific support in the home and at school to build their emotional intelligence and healthy cognition: helping young people understand their feelings better and correct unhelpful and untrue thoughts;
- More information and encouragement for young people to support each other in helpful ways with the challenges of everyday life and in tough times.
- Authentic and helpful expressions of care from adults: Every young person needs adults in their life they can trust and talk to about complicated things, and often these adults won’t be their parents. They can be relatives or neighbours, coaches or employers… and unlike new government regulations, they don’t need to be vetted, qualified or certified to provide genuine care.
- Better information for adults: Parents, uncles, aunties, neighbours, coaches, teachers, employers and grandparents need better information about how to raise healthy young people in a fairly sick society. There is heaps of useful guidance for the universal foundations of positive youth development – and some good information on approaches that work best for specific genders, cultures and other groups.
I’m keen to put some more energy into all the above, in the hope our community may be spared another loss like we have experienced today.
Anyone keen to help or got better suggestions?
Now is a time to grieve and to make some commitments.