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Suicide rate link to culture, society and economy

Suicide rate link to culture, society and economy

Author John Weaver wants to see a wider and more long-term view of suicide prevention, urging people to look beyond depression as the main cause of suicide – and to begin addressing some of the wider impacts of society.

John Weaver has carried out one of the most comprehensive reviews of suicides in New Zealand after examining over 12,000 coroners’ reports from throughout the last century – 1900 to 2000.

His in-depth research about what is behind New Zealand’s suicide statistics are detailed in his new bookSorrows of a Century, published by Bridget Williams Books.

Weaver writes that in many cases those who committed suicide had experienced stresses beyond their control – economic depressions, wars, accidents and illness.

“A lot of suicides were indictments of culture, society and the economy. They evolve and spin off new variations on timeless sources of unhappiness and trauma, sorrow and rage.”

He says by looking across the past century, rather than looking at individual cases in isolation, it is clear that governments can have a key role in addressing suicide.

History shows that tackling societal issues rather than taking up short-term, low-cost solutions can have a big impact on suicide rates. As an example, “first, New Zealand social security and labour legislation addressed particular forms of troubles and the suicide rates of older men fell. Second, the treatment of the elderly improved, including palliative care.”

Weaver writes that deep prevention of suicide should address health from the cradle to the grave, and ensure meaningful work – the latter is particularly effective for giving young people a sense of purpose. Effective education on warning signs within schools and in the media could also help.

“Awareness can be advanced by media reporting of well-considered facts. Coroners’ findings should be immediately available to the media and researchers; access can contribute to public awareness and education.”

Weaver writes: “A grieving father expressed matters: ‘all a parent can do is provide support and a loving stable environment. What society must do is provide hope, employment opportunities and a sense of balance.’”

Other key points from the book:
• Looking across the past century, swings in the most vulnerable age groups and shifts in the reasons for suicide are evident.
• Alcoholism was an astonishingly common cause in the early twentieth century.
• Youth unemployment at century’s end contributed to a distinct social problem.
• There was a lingering impact of war on suicides among returned soldiers over the following years.
• Suicide methods changed as the country became more urban, car oriented, and headed on a pharmacological path.
• The book has already attracted interest from senior legal, medical and historical experts working in New Zealand.

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