That is the number of people who committed suicide in the year to June 2019. That is the number of funerals to devastate family, colleagues and friends alike across New Zealand in those 12 months, no doubt causing any number of searching conversations, sleepless nights wondering what could have been done to help them.
Have you ever had a friend, a family member or close colleague on suicide watch or something approaching it where you and/or others were sufficiently alarmed as to intervene? What was the outcome?
Suicide on the whole is an ugly beast that, despite much chatter about intervention and making sure the vulnerable people in our lives are okay, we are only really starting to get our heads around. We say we care to people who we know are having tough times, but how many of us have actually tried taking the person concerned aside and quietly talking to them one on one; messaging them if you have social media and just randomly checking up on them?
Now, how many of you have had this conversation or similar with suicidal male contacts?
Because of those 685 who committed suicide last year, 112 were young males between age 15 and 24. Of these 685, 169 were Maori and 34 were Pacific Islanders.
One major problem that really bugs me about New Zealand is – although it has improved in recent years – is the idea that the New Zealand male needs keep his personal health to himself. The New Zealand male according to the stereotype that we have inadvertently helped to create is a rugged, rugby loving, stoic “she’ll be right, mate” kind of person.
But also our youth are under immense pressure – pressure to conform to society, struggling with their growth from boys and girls into young men and ladies. They are under pressure from their peers to be like them, try radical – and not always legal – things, get their first dates, driver licences, drink alcohol, establish a social media profile. And in a world where the internet is as much a medium for dishing out abuse as it is for social good. Gender, sexual orientation among other factors of ones identity all come under scrutiny.
Despite the efforts of various prominent New Zealand figures – Sir John Kirwan and his autobiography about his struggle with depression; Mike King and his campaign, among others – I sense that there is still a deep reluctance in many parts of society to talk about the well being of our male family/whanau, friends and colleagues. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern acknowledges this as do government agencies and community groups.
I think the biggest challenges will actually come from families in our Maori and ethnic communities for whom talking about things like suicide is strictly taboo. How we talk to them about that needs to be addressed because those “are you okay” conversations that people like Sir John and Mike King have raised, although a simple thing to do, might be the only way to get someone thinking about ending their lives to realise that actually, people do care.