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New Research Challenges Govt Suicide Policies

New Research Challenges Government Policies On Suicide

Recent research suggests that, under certain circumstances, exposure to suicidal behaviour may protect individuals from attempting suicide.

The study conducted by the US-based Centre for Disease Control and Prevention found that, in some cases, being acquainted with someone who has committed suicide or being exposed to suicide in news, books or films may actually decrease the risk of suicidal behaviour.

CDC researchers conducted first-person interviews with individuals who survived nearly lethal suicide attempts. These cases included persons 13 to 34 years of age who probably would have died without emergency medical intervention, or who used a highly lethal means of attempting suicide. Researchers found no evidence that exposure to the suicidal behaviour of others is a risk factor for nearly lethal attempts.

“Suicide is a complex public health problem. Evidence exists that in some circumstances suicidal behaviour may be ‘contagious’. However, we found that exposure to the suicidal behaviour of friends and acquaintances actually reduced the likelihood that those who were exposed would engage in very serious suicidal behaviour. Our findings also suggest that this reduction in risk was most prominent when study participants did not feel emotionally close to the person to whose suicidal behaviour they were exposed”, said Jim Mercy, Ph.D., of the CDC’s National Centre for Injury Prevention and Control, and primary author of the study.

The CDC’s tightly controlled study was based on interviews with 153 survivors of near-lethal suicide attempts. Researchers controlled for such known risk factors as depression, alcoholism, a recent move, upsetting end to a relationship, exposure to a non-suicide death, and demographics in order to isolate the effects of exposure to the suicidal behaviour of others on nearly lethal suicide attempts.

CDC protects people’s health and safety by preventing and controlling diseases and injuries; enhances health decisions by providing credible information on critical health issues; and promotes healthy living through strong partnerships with local, national and international organisations.

According to Marco Marinkovich (Acting Chairman) of the Youth Suicide Awareness Trust and Yellow Ribbon, the research is important as it challenges current government policies on suicide

“There is a perception that talking about suicide or widespread reporting of suicides may lead to ‘copy-cat’ behaviour” said Marco Marinkovich. “This latest research is important as it challenges that belief. The information we have received is that suicide is an issue young people discuss with their peers. We believe it is best to be open with young people, providing awareness and support, rather than sweeping the issue under the carpet. Educating young people that asking for help in times of need is actually a strength and not a weakness.”

514 lives were lost to suicide in New Zealand in 1999, which is greater than the deaths from road accidents.

Division between experts appears to be the current trend, i.e. clinicians working with young people and interpreters of research. Dr Carolyn Coggan, a New Zealand eminent clinician and academic, recently published data advising that: Suicidal youth want help from their peers in preference to help from adults. They want to learn skills in how to effectively solve problems ‘It is imperative that young people be adequately resources to respond if friends approach them about suicidal behaviour.’

In contrast, government recommendations suggest that friends/peers should not be resourced in helping colleagues seek help no-one should raise the awareness of suicide either directly or indirectly that suicidal thoughts should only be discussed with a counsellor or mental health professional.

Our government strategy on suicide prevention policies clearly states that, ‘peers should not have the responsibility for the well being of others’. A recent letter from Howard Fancy (Ministry of Education), Ann Carter (Ministry of Youth Affairs), and Karen Poutasi (Ministry of Health) advised schools to avoid programmes that trained students in assisting peers to develop help seeking behaviour.

Yellow Ribbon’s research conducted in 2001 revealed that two-thirds of the respondents (576 students) stated that friends were the most popular of confidants when experiencing problems, however about 50% of young people were also confident about speaking to their parents.

“International research continues to suggest that considerably more research is needed to determine the most effective intervention in reducing suicide.” said Marco Marinkovich.

Youthline 0800 376 633 Lifeline 0800 111 777

KEYPOINTS

This new research has just come to light which adds further credibility to the work of the Youth Suicide Awareness Trust and Yellow Ribbon.

The study finds that, in some cases, being acquainted with someone who has committed suicide or being exposed to suicide in news, books or films, may actually decrease the risk of suicidal behaviour.

The research contradicts some existing government policies that discourage the reporting of suicides for fear of ‘copy-cat’ behaviour.

“Findings from this study are important because the research is based on first-person interviews with people who survived a suicide attempt. Other studies have relied on information in official records such as death certificates or accounts provided by surviving friends or relatives of the victim”said US Surgeon General David Satcher.

* US Surgeon General called suicide prevention “everyone’s business” and said “suicide is a preventable problem with realistic opportunities to save many lives. Each member of the community has an important role in turning the tide of suffering and disability caused by this under recognised public health problem.”

In 1999 514 lives were lost to suicide in New Zealand which is more than those who died by car accidents (508). This represents a large number of New Zealand whose lives are touched by this tragedy.

Of these, 120 were young people aged 15-24 (81 were male and 15 were female). Research from the Canterbury Suicide Project in Christchurch found that 90% of people who die by suicide or make suicide attempts would have one or more recognisable psychiatric disorder at the time. The most common of these are depression, substance-use disorders (Alcohol, cannabis and other drug abuse) and significant behavioural problems.

The problem is even greater when you take into account the number of attempted suicides. In the 1999/2000 there were 758 hospitalisations (356 being male and 698 being female)

Division between experts appears to be the current trend. One on hand clinical experts working on the coal face with suicidal clients suggest that: Talking and being able to ask for help is the most important preventative skill. A sense of hopelessness, isolation and not feeling comfortable talking about your thoughts of suicide, are crucial factors that characterise and discriminate between those who only think about suicide and those who attempt. That talking to an adult or counsellor when you are suicidal is less desirable than talking to a friend.

The second group of experts seems more entrenched in disseminating research and interpreting numerous articles written by others. They take a more conservative view that: Friends/peers should not be trained in helping colleagues seek help or to solve problems. Nor should they be trained in helping a peer seek help from an adult. No one should raise the awareness of suicide either directly or indirectly. Up to 90% of all suicides involve a mental health disorder. The only time it is appropriate to talk about suicidal thoughts is in a one-to-one situation with a counsellor or a mental health professional. Suicide must never be discussed within a large group context.

Although there is an overlap between the two poles of thought, it seems that clinicians that regularly work with youth maintain more credibility regarding help seeking interventions within youth culture, and also within the general population.

Dr Carolyn Coggan, a New Zealand eminent clinician and academic, (2002) recently published data advising that: Suicidal youth want help from their peers in preference to help from adults. They want to learn skills in how to effectively solve problems. ‘It is imperative that young people be adequately resourced to respond if friends approach them about suicidal behaviour’.

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