2 Nov 2017

Minimising the risk of suicide - what can parents do?

From Nine To Noon, 11:23 am on 2 November 2017
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Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

New Zealand's youth suicide rate is the worst in the developed world. So why are so many of today's young people feeling so hopeless? And what can concerned parents do to minimise risk.

It's usually a mistake to seek logical reasons for a suicide as the reasons are often emotional, Mikaere-Wallis says.

In New Zealand, too little value is placed on teaching emotional intelligence.

"If we were teaching self-control and self-calming more effectively, we would see lower rates of anxiety.

"Every child is going to be taught to drive a car before they leave school, but at school, they don't learn self-control – the number one research-based factor that will determine whether that child's successful or not".

Anxiety stems from an inability to self-regulate – the ability to calm yourself down which is linked to self-control.

"When you know how to re-regulate yourself, you basically calm the lower parts of your brain which allows the higher parts of your brain – empathy, all the good stuff – to come online."

Self-regulation is best learnt through a responsive parent in the first thousand days of life, but this attention in the first three years does not by itself create resilience, says Mikaere-Wallis.

In the past, many kids also developed resilience through free play between the ages of three and seven, but with today's focus on literacy and numeracy, this opportunity is often missed.

"Children for whatever reason, later on, cannot self-regulate, cannot calm down, so they stay in the amygdala or the lower regions of their brain. They lack empathy, they lack forethought, they lack an understanding of consequences."

Once children reach adolescence, what can parents do?

  • Be aware that alcohol & drug use and trauma are risk factors.
  • Make sure they get enough sleep. "If the kid comes from a home where the parent regulates sleep times that statistically lowers chances."
  • Stay connected by listening actively. Reflect your child's emotions back to them before you give advice (remembering you don't need to agree with their emotions to validate them).

"The majority of teenagers don't feel listened to by their parents because they express an emotion and the parent comes back with a cortical answer about what they should be doing and some logic. Since that logical frontal cortex for a teenager is shut for renovations 90 percent of the time, 90 percent of their worldview comes from the emotional brain. So if parents don't speak to that emotional brain they've just skipped 90 percent of that kid's worldview."

"Just like my nana said 'Kids will do as you do, not as you say'. So if you want them to listen to you, you've got to listen to them."

If you think your child is at risk of suicide, do not hesitate to ask for help, Mikaere-Wallis says.

Where to get help:

Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 anytime to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children's helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.