Adults warned on suicides: Support children or 'see them leave before you'

5:48 am on 28 August 2019

Māori suicide prevention workers say they are undervalued and underfunded and they are pleading for more support as Māori suicide rates reach record highs.

Kimiora Trust head Kiritahi Firmin

Kiritahi Firmin Photo: RNZ / Leigh-Marama McLachlan

New figures show 685 people in Aotearoa died by suicide in the year to June, also marking the highest number of Māori suicide deaths ever at 169.

In Whanganui, a father of five took his life at the weekend, and another dad died by suicide the week before.

Kimiora Trust head Kiritahi Firmin said the situation was tragic.

"For Māori and Pasifika, the stats have risen. For Pākehā, they have declined," she said.

"Now there must be some sort of secret to their sauce because, for us, we are in dire straits. This is sad, this is a travesty."

Ms Firmin said a key problem was that DHBs and health organisations were working in silos and Māori approaches to suicide prevention were treated as second best to Western ones.

"We are not funded enough and if we are not funded enough, how can we be valued enough," she said.

"The DHBs and the Ministry of Health will fund non-Māori models just like that - because they are clinical."

Kia Piki te Ora suicide prevention service worker Stormie Rogan

Stormie Rogan Photo: RNZ / Leigh-Marama McLachlan

Kia Piki te Ora suicide prevention service worker Stormie Rogan said her heart sank when she heard that Māori suicide rates had risen again.

She said they were working closely with DHB and other providers to help the community but whānau were struggling and everyone needed to step up.

"There's never enough funding especially for this kaupapa," she said.

"There's not enough staff; there's not enough counsellors; there's waiting lists and not enough people to talk to our people."

But she said there were steps that families could take to help each other.

"Our whānau need to champion ourselves. We need to check in on each other and talk to each other and make it comfortable that they can talk to each other."

Whanganui youth discuss teen suicides.

Whanganui youth say social media add to the pressures of growing up. Photo: RNZ / Leigh-Marama McLachlan

Rangatahi are warning adults to listen or watch their children leave before them.

The number of young people aged between 15 and 19 who have died by suicide has gone from 20 to 73.

Whanganui YMCA lead mentor Justin Gush tries to get rangatahi involved in sports, and Māori traditions like Aka, to make them feel good about themselves.

"With all the good mahi that we can do out there there is a lot of issues going on within our whānau that we see probably on a daily basis," he said.

"We are more in a mentoring role, supporting our rangatahi daily trying to find their way in this life, but there are so many things going on at home."

Mr Gush said issues included a disconnection from culture, poverty, alcohol and drug abuse and mental health issues.

Ngakauroa Love, 16, said social media and bullying were added pressures for young people of this generation.

She said she had battled suicidal thoughts before, and felt there was a lack of support for rangatahi from whānau and the community.

"There is just no one there for you to talk to and try to put the message through," she said.

"Our rangatahi find ways to handle their own and that is like suicide for example - it's not fair man."

Whanganui YMCA lead mentor Justin Gush

Justin Gush Photo: RNZ / Leigh-Marama McLachlan

Another young woman, who RNZ cannot name, said growing up in child welfare and frequently moving homes made her suicidal too.

She said she felt hopeless, helpless and alone, and warned adults and parents not to dismiss young people who come to them with concerns.

"People can be horrible and just tell you to shut up - 'you're being stupid'," she said.

"Parents need to understand that we are going through a lot emotionally and sometimes it is just so hard to deal with our emotions."

Ms Love agreed and said that young people wanted to feel loved and validated.

"When they say that they do not actually know what is going on in your mind, body and soul," she said.

"You need to get up and do something about that and support your children otherwise you are going to see them leave before you do and that is not right!"

Both young women said they turned to God and sought comfort from religion.

Mr Gush said the absence of a National Suicide Prevention Strategy since 2016 had clearly had a negative impact on Māori.

The government has responded to the statistics by allocating $40 million towards suicide prevention and said it would release a new strategy soon.

Where to get help:

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

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

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) or text 4202

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email

What's Up: online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm 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.