Pacific community group develops resource for young people to challenge suicide taboo

Although there has been a drop in suicide rates among Pasifika and Maori, there is still work to be done to bring it up to a level of confidence, experts say.

RICKY WILSON/Stuff

Although there has been a drop in suicide rates among Pasifika and Maori, there is still work to be done to bring it up to a level of confidence, experts say.

One idea born at the start of the pandemic is to break the stigma of suicide and raise awareness in a community that has often treated it as a taboo.

the 21 day life diary by the Failoa Famili Charitable Trust is one of New Zealand’s first advocacy tools for young Pacific people, written by Pacific people.

The trust’s executive director, Naomi Saluni Tavau, says it’s one of the resources it has to help address the social and economic disparities families in the Pacific face.

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The idea came to her after New Zealand entered its first lockdown in 2020, as she read The great diary of life – an Australian publication for young people.

“I thought that was great so I did some research and found there was nothing like it for our young Pasifika in New Zealand,” Tavau said.

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The leading cause of death among pregnant and postpartum women in Aotearoa is suicide.

As community groups stepped in to distribute food parcels to families in the Pacific, Tavau wondered why there was nothing available to help young members during a stressful time.

She wanted something that would also raise awareness about suicide prevention.

Figures released by Chief Coroner Deborah Marshall in 2020 showed 654 people died by suicide in the year to June 2020, a drop of 31 deaths from the total of 685 in 2019, the number the highest on record since records began.

New Zealand’s suicide rate was 13.01 deaths per 100,000 population, down from 13.93.

The figures show a notable decrease in suicides among young people. Deaths among 15-19 year olds rose from 73 to 59, and in the 20-24 age group they rose from 91 to 60.

Naomi Saluni Tavau, executive director of Failoa Famili Charitable Trust, left, with Esther McIntyre, author of the 21 Day Life Journal.

Provided

Naomi Saluni Tavau, executive director of Failoa Famili Charitable Trust, left, with Esther McIntyre, author of the 21 Day Life Journal.

There were changes from 2009 to 2018 in the suicide rates of Māori, Pacific, Asian and other populations, but all not significantly at the 95% confidence level.

“It’s almost taboo for a lot of our people – we don’t talk about mental health let alone suicide, so we wanted something that could give us some confidence to talk about it a bit.”

Tavau and his team finally found the 21 day life diary.

“He does more than challenge the taboo of suicide in Pacific communities. It is a holistic model of care that our young people can relate to.

With funding of $49,500 from Le Va, the trust was able to print 500 copies.

“It wasn’t just about responding to the pandemic; it would help our young people in the long run,” Tavau said. “Once they acquire this knowledge, use it, they will be equipped for life and unlock their true potential.”

New Zealand's 2020 figures showed 654 people died by suicide in the year to June 2020, a drop of 31 deaths from the total of 685 in 2019.

Getty Images

New Zealand’s 2020 figures showed 654 people died by suicide in the year to June 2020, a drop of 31 deaths from the total of 685 in 2019.

Le Va’s senior suicide prevention officer, Leilani Clarke, said the Department of Health gave them $3.1 million to support communities in their suicide prevention work.

the 21 day life diary was one of 33 recipients in the last round of funding.

“Suicide is a whole-of-society issue and we all need to be involved, from government agencies and employers to friends and families,” Clarke said.

“Everyone has a role to play in fostering emotional resilience, so people can face challenges in healthier ways.”

Clarke said there were lots of innovative ideas in the Pacific community and she encouraged them to apply for funding.

“Any work to save our people from suicide benefits the community as a whole. Our community knows what’s best for them, so we’re ready to support them.

Where to get help

  • 1737, Need to talk? Call for free or text 1737 to speak to a qualified adviser.
  • Children’s line 0800 54 37 54 for people up to 18 years old. Open 24/7.
  • safety rope 0800 543 354
  • Rural Support Trust 0800 787 254
  • Samaritans 0800 726 666
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
  • Youth line 0800 376 633, free text 234, email talk@youthline.co.nz, or find live chat and other support options here.
  • Anxiety New Zealand 0800 ANXIETY (0800 269 4389)
  • If it is an emergency, Click here to find the number of your local crisis assessment team.
  • In case of life danger, call 111.

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