Former coroner calls to Break The Silence on suicide

The next article in a series at NZ Herald on suicide:  Let’s Talk: Former chief coroner Neil MacLean joins call to Break The Silence on suicide

Warning: This article is about youth suicide and may be distressing for some readers.

Former chief coroner Neil MacLean says breaking the silence on suicide could curb the “horrifying” number of young New Zealanders killing themselves.

“This is a drum I’ve been beating for a long time. We cannot ignore the sheer numbers and rate – it’s bigger than the road toll,” said MacLean, who retired from the post in 2015.

New Zealand has the worst teen suicide rate (officially those aged 15-19) in the world and the second worst youth suicide rate (25 and under). Our annual number of deaths has shown no signs of abating in the past 20 years.

In a special series called Break the Silence, the New Zealand Herald is aiming to bring youth suicide out of the shadows. MacLean has been one of the country’s biggest crusaders in this area and said suicide was one of the most difficult issues he faced during his almost 40 years as a coroner.

“Any unexpected death is going to produce a different type of grief, but with a suicide, particularly as it gets younger, there’s a new intensity of grief,” he said. The youngest suicide MacLean was aware of in New Zealand was that of an 8-year-old boy.

“There’s a feeling of waste, blame and anger. Everybody struggles to understand why it is when, generally the will to live is so strong, that a significant proportion of people get to the end where there is no option.”

Misunderstanding breeds fear. “It’s almost as if there’s a fear suicide is something you can catch, almost like an infection, and that if you stomp it out or ignore it, it will go away.

Some think it’s best to bury our head in the sand. Not me,” MacLean told the Herald.

During his time as chief coroner, MacLean controversially kickstarted the release of New Zealand’s annual provisional suicide statistics, allowing the public to see the number of suspected suicides for the first time.

Silence on suicide has been orthodox in New Zealand since the mid-1990s, largely because of a school of thought that talking about the issue could lead to suicidal ideation, copycat deaths or suicide contagion.

MacLean received swift criticism for releasing the statistics at the time, but stands by his decision.

“If people know what’s going on there is a better chance to do something about it. Like start talking about what we can do to help these kids.”

“The reality is, that although there are various theories of sociologists, psychologists and other disciplines, we are no closer to understanding why it is when the substantial majority of the population, including youth, do not commit suicide, and life is seen as precious, a small minority do not see life as precious.

“Despite my long experience in this area, neither do I. However, one thing I am very clear on through contact with thousands of New Zealanders, whether at inquests, lectures, talks, seminars or the like, is that our understanding in this area is still plagued with misinformation, and reluctance in some circles to open up the discussion and to face the reality of this puzzling phenomenon.

“I know from personal experience, most people want more information, particularly when someone they know is involved. What are the signs to look out for and how can they help?

“There are some encouraging signs of a willingness to open up the whole area of self-harming and self-inflicted death in New Zealand. I believe that done properly, such discussion can be beneficial and that to dismiss such discussion as dangerous and unwise is not helpful.”

Full article:

Previous articles:

WHERE TO GET HELP:

If you are worried about your or someone else’s mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.

OR IF YOU NEED TO TALK TO SOMEONE ELSE:

• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757

Coroner rules on Dudley’s death

The Coroner has ruled that the assault on schoolboy Stephen Dudley was the most significant factor in his death. It had already been found that Dudley also had an undiagnosed heart condition that was also a factor.

NZ Herald: Exclusive: Fatal assault – Stephen Dudley’s family want manslaughter prosecution after inquest findings

The family of a schoolboy who died after a violent assault at rugby training is calling for a manslaughter charge to be laid after the Coroner ruled the actions of another teen was “the most significant factor” in his death.

Stephen Eruwera Dudley died on June 6, 2013 after he was punched repeatedly by two teenage brothers at a West Auckland rugby field.

KEY POINTS

  • Stephen Dudley died after a an assault at rugby practice in 2013
  • Two teens were charged with manslaughter
  • The charge was lessened to assault after an undiagnosed heart condition was revealed
  • Coroner Gordon Matenga said one of the teen’s punches directly led to Stephen’s death
  • The Dudley family are calling for new charges following the Coroner’s findings

The brothers were initially charged with manslaughter.

But after medical examinations revealed an undiagnosed heart condition, the Crown withdrew the charge – saying it could not be determined whether the assault contributed to Stephen’s death.

In 2014 the brothers pleaded guilty to assaulting Stephen and were discharged without conviction and granted name permanent suppression.

Last year, just after third anniversary of Stephen’s death Coroner Gordon Matenga held an inquest.

Today he released his report, and found that while Stephen may have had an underlying heart condition, his death was the direct result of “stress associated with physical assault”.

Even though Dudley had a problem with his heart he would have lived longer if he hadn’t been attacked and beaten.

There has to be consequences for those who viscously attack others unprovoked, especially if the victim dies.

A clear legal message has to be strongly made that thuggery is both unacceptable and potentially very dangerous.

Brent Dudley said his son was seen by witnesses laughing and joking as he left rugby practice.

It wasn’t until he was “coward punched” that his health fatally deteriorated.

“We are happy that the Coroner saw it the same way that we do.”

The couple said they “strongly believe” the teenager who delivered the fatal blow needed to be held to account.

“We feel, strongly, that he has a case to answer,” Brent Dudley said.

I agree.