For such a small country, NZ is famous for over-achieving - rugby, sailing, mountaineering, engineering, farming, science, entrepreneurship - we can hold our heads high and be proud as a nation. There is one recent achievement that we should not be so proud of, our youth suicide rate.
Youth suicide is a world-wide phenomenon, NZ unfortunately leads the way.
The reasons for considering suicide are many; for the most part, it is due to a loss; a loss of status, loss of job, loss of relationship, a loss of something close to the heart of the person concerned. Often it is a combination of losses.
Fixing it requires a multifaceted approach, beginning in the home and with education. And I know there are better people than I who are working on how to reduce our rate of successful suicides.
What I would like to do is to offer a couple of tips on how to identify if someone is unwell and what you can do to offer immediate help. If you are wondering how I know this stuff, I have been on both sides of suicide - helping those in need and once considering it myself as an option.
Encouraging those who are struggling to reach out and speak about their troubles often won't work by itself, the person struggling is so unwell they don't know who to ask or how to ask. They are completely consumed by their negative thoughts and the emotional response this brings.
We know that exaggerated negative behaviour is an indicator - poor grooming, humourless, sullen, increased alcohol or drug consumption, express feelings of hopelessness & helplessness - the list is endless. It is negative thoughts leading to negative behaviour. There is a noticeable change in their posture and mood.
For the most part, those who are unwell won't look at your face when you talk to them. The brain is telling the person to hide from others. However, it can be difficult to judge this single indicator in young people because a lot of our young won't look at you when you talk with them anyway. They may also hide away in their room, won't go outside, won't be engaged in anything involving the family. Again, often this is just young people in general.
What young people stop doing the most when they are unwell is being with their mates. They reject all forms of human connection.
So what can you do to help them, apart from seeking expert help? Ask them how they are doing, it's that simple. "How are you, I am concerned about you, I care about you." Ask questions about what they are thinking about or what they are feeling. A light touch on the arm or shoulder may work as you ask questions - oxytocin is a powerful influencer.
If they don't want to talk then don't push them too hard or you might push them further away. Give them options, give them tips, give them hope.
End the communication by saying "I am here when you need me, will go with you when you want to see someone, and here if you ever want to just talk." Don't try to fix it unless they are really unwell - if they look extremely pale then you must get them immediate help.
Each day ask a simple question "How are you today", "How's it going", "I'm here if you want to chat" or the best sentence of all "I love you."
Encouraging those who are unwell to talk about their thoughts and feelings is how you as an individual can reduce the risk of suicide. 'An emotion expressed and acknowledged is disarmed'.
Go and visit your GP, see a psychologist, or speak with a Counselor to get more information and advice. And most importantly, look after yourself. You can't help anyone if you aren't on a solid foundation.