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Youth Suicide in New Zealand: a Discussion Paper

Youth Suicide in New Zealand: a Discussion Paper
Suicide is tragic event which touches far too many families. As society gropes around looking for ways to prevent it, suicide rates in New Zealand remain among the highest in the world. Our youth also commit suicide at terrifying rates. The new report by Sir Peter Gluckman will sadly produce little change in these appalling suicide stats. Gluckman and the other contributors to the report bring no new insights to the problem.
They admit that focusing on adolescent mental health is not sufficient but go on to propose the ‘high priority need’ to ‘introduce and reinforce programmes focused on primary prevention starting early in life’. This prevention is said to involve ‘strategies to improve impulse control and executive function from early childhood’. Secondly they propose developing ‘prevention strategies involving well-trained and engaged mentors including peer mentors.’ We read of no awareness in their advice of the responsibility of parents to teach their children how to live and how to value their own lives. Similarly, although ‘religion’ is mentioned in passing, the fact is ignored that the present high levels of suicide have coincided with the growing atheism within society, the militant secularism of the state and the rejection of the validity of the teaching of the Bible including biblical ethics.
The primary cause of suicide is not a mystery. Suicide is a result of despair, whether in adults or children. And it is the very education system which Dr Gluckman’s report concludes is the answer to suicide, which is in fact one reason for it, as it reflects the prevailing philosophy of materialism and secularism. New Zealand education is based on the premise that the material world is all that there is. The New Zealand national school curriculum requires students from new entrants through to school leavers to learn about biological evolution which is presented as a fact. Children are therefore learning that they are the product of chance plus time, and are really just another form of animal. The teaching that human beings are just evolved animals leaves no room for a sense of purpose, nor for a rational basis for deciding what is right and what is wrong. Adolescents are therefore essentially taught that there is no meaning for life beyond this material world. No amount of teaching children not to act impulsively will compensate for the genuine despair they feel.
There is one exception to the teaching of secularism and that is found in the Maori version of the New Zealand Curriculum. The Maori version of the New Zealand curriculum teaches children in the science curriculum about ‘all living things and their progeny: human, plant, animal, microbial.’ Maori religion is invoked to explain how the student is to understand science: ‘This is the strand protected by the majority of the familial deities – namely the parents, Ranginui and Papatuanuku, and their children Tanemahuta, Tangaroa, Haumiatiketike, Rongomatane, Tumatauenga and others’.
However, Maori animism and polytheism do not supply the answers to the despair Maori youth often feel.
The Gluckman report shows no real insight into the shortcomings of the education system. Secular youth in our public education system do not have the option of realising that legitimate trials they have been through like sexual abuse, bullying, domestic violence and other horrendous experiences can be understood and dealt with best in a Christian world and life view. The Christian is not defined by their experiences, but by redemption and the availability of God’s grace to cope with any situation, no matter how dire.
Only when society rediscovers the spiritual realities behind the material world will adolescents and adults realise that there really is real hope, and real meaning to this present life.

Garnet Milne

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