Alarm over suicide trends in NZ Pacific Islander community | Pacific Beat

Alarm over suicide trends in NZ Pacific Islander community

Alarm over suicide trends in NZ Pacific Islander community

Updated 22 February 2013, 11:24 AEDT

Suicide has long been a subject that is rarely talked about within New Zealand's Pacific Islander community, but news that a child under the age of 9 was among those who took their own lives during 2011 has prompted calls for an urgent change in attitude.

New Zealand's Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean is backing a move to provide suicide statistics in a more timely manner, rather than waiting several years for confirmed data.

He's supported by David Lui, a consultant on Pacific Islands health and social issues, who says the strategy of not talking about suicide obviously hasn't worked.

And University of Auckland research fellow Dr Jemaima Tiatia says the Islander community can no longer avoid confronting the issue, particularly when young children's lives are at stake.

Presenter: Richard Ewart

Speaker: Dr Jemaima Tiatia, research fellow, University of Auckland

TIATI: We should be extremely shocked, because this child, it's not like a young person or an adult and something's got to be done. We're seeing a rise in young adults and our young people and now it's like tripped over into our children, something has to be done about it.
 
EWART: What sort of factors without knowing all the background in this particular case, but what sort of factors will be at play that would drive somebody so young to do that?
 
TIATI: Apart from issues like harsh physical discipline, maybe sexual abuse, psychological abuse, and it's a lot to do with our young people feeling unloved. There's a lack of communication, they're feeling unsupported, I can hypothesis or although, don't quote me on this, but I'd say for someone so young, to think about taking their life, it probably would have to do with bullying, school bullying, internet bullying, that's on the rise and that's become quite a big contributing risk factor for our youth.
 
EWART: And in terms of the broader issue, based on the research that you have done, particularly talking to young people within the Islander communities. It does appear that the situation is getting worse. I mean do you feel that the situation is being properly addressed?
 
TAITI: No, I don't. I've always argued that. Do we have to wait for the crunch moment, before we start talking about it. I think we just need to start talking about it now and with some Western ideals, they argue that talk actually glamorises or romantises it. Whereas with Pacific communities, as part of my work, I've come to realise that as a distinct Pacific people, we need to talk about it, because it's such a taboo subject, that actually persuades or discourages families and young people from seeking help.
 
EWART: When you say it's still a taboo subject. Is it taboo within the wider community shall we say, or are even people you've experienced suicide, who have lost a loved one. Are they not prepared to talk about it either?
 
TAITI: There's a few studies in the pipeline that will have families talking about and with the young people that I spoke to, attempted suicide. They were forthcoming in a lot of the feedback I got from those suicide attempters is that our communities need to talk about it. Because only then, can we come up with a solutions that are relevant, appropriate for our communities.
 
EWART; So there is a cultural undercurrent here perhaps that young people don't quite know in which direction they should be going?
 
TAITI: Definitely, there's confusion, unrealistic expectations in our families come to a country with these pipe dreams of their children becoming brain surgeons or Super 15 rugby players and sometimes those expectations can cause a bit of stress and pressure upon our young people, when they don't cut it. That's also a factor that seems to coming through strongly and some cultural undercurrent, not being able to talk about some real issues that affect our young people to our parents would be considered maybe disrespectful, boyfriend, girlfriend scenario, the sick scenario, the I'm not feeling too well, I feel really sad and in some instances, you can't overtly express that to your parents.
 
EWART: So how do you think the issue can be broadened out, how can people be encouraged, to first of all, recognise that there is a problem and then to go on and talk about it and try and work a way of dealing with it?
 
TAITI: I really believe it has to be community-driven and the solutions have to come from I guess the young people themselves, what will work, what kind of factors will work to prevent them from even thinking about taking their lives. There is resiliency factors, protective factors, what are our young people connecting with. We're assuming we know what they're connecting with, but in actual fact, we could be way off the mark. So it's a lot of dialogue that needs to happen and encouraging our Pacific communities and our young people that it's OK to seek help. This should be a removed stigma.
 
EWART: If the issue isn't addressed in the way that you've described. Without wishing to be necessarily an alarmist. What fears to you hold for the islander communities?
 
TAITI: It will just keep rising, that's my biggest fear, that it will keep rising and people are not willing to listen and I guess people sitting on their butts, are not getting out there and doing something about it. Because as cliche as this is, these young people are our future and they're dying off because they couldn't have a conversation about something that they felt wasn't appropriate. So it would be my biggest fear in services not being able to cope with the Pacific young people.
 
EWART: Does it make a difference in your view that there seems to be this focus on I slander communities and maybe the broader New Zealand population is less inclined to recognise the seriousness of the problem?
 
TAITI: I get a sense that it's not so much a priority for the general population yet, but 2011, 2012, there was at least anecdotally a suicide every month for a kid, and that's only for like a small percentage of the population and only in Auckland region. So I guess it's everybody's problem. Everyone needs to take accountability, whether it's your families, schools, sports clubs, work places, everyone's accountable.
 

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