New study to research final letters left by victims of suicide

By Jessica Tyson

For the first time in Aotearoa, a new study into the final letters or messages left by victims of suicide will research practical answers as to why so many New Zealander’s are taking their lives.

The study was announced on World Suicide Prevention Day by mental health advocate Mike King and The Key to Life Charitable Trust.

King says the aim of using the research to inform future interventions and suicide prevention efforts. He says, for this research to be meaningful researchers are hoping to collect 1000 letters or messages.

“Over the course of my work in mental health, many families have shared with me the taonga of reading the final words of their loved ones,” says King.

“And though every note is tragic and unique, I’ve noticed there are a handful of common themes. Families often want to contribute to efforts to help stop the scourge of suicide, as a way to honour their loved ones. We want to honour that wish, and create more understanding about suicide in Aotearoa.”

Statistics released by the chief coroner Judge Deborah Marshall showed the suicide rate increased from 2017 to 2018. In the year ended to 30 June 2018, 685 people died by suicide, compared to 668 in 2017 - an increase of 17 deaths by suicide.

The number of Māori deaths was also the highest since records began, with 142 deaths from July 2017 to June 2018. Māori men were disproportionately represented with 97 deaths by suicide from July 2017 to June 2018; 12 per cent more than the previous year.

In an effort to distill any national trends and triggers, the 1000 Letters study will carefully analyse the content of final messages of both suicide victims and volunteers who have survived suicide.  

Psychotherapist and Chair of the Key to Life Charitable Trust Kyle MacDonald says, “It’s a hugely contentious topic and we’re aware that we’ll need to handle the information in the letters sensitively - and of course anonymously - but we believe that there’s real potential to help others struggling in similar situations.”

Mixed thoughts on new suicide prevention strategy

To tackle the high figures the government released a suicide prevention strategy yesterday. 

Within in, Minister of Health David Clark says, "We're looking to ensure that there are more co-designed processes both in the kaupapa Māori space."

But Māori Council member Matthew Tukaki is not impressed.

"I think its a waste of time in terms of hope aspiration, opportunity that our voices have been heard. For two years now we've said we want our own national suicide prevention strategy for Māori designed by Māori and implemented by Māori. That hasn't come through."

King thinks the government suicide prevention strategy shouldn't focus on a specific group or ethnicity. 

"There is a lot of talk out there that I don't agree with lifting up Māori. Of course, I agree in lifting up Māori. Of course, Māori needs need to be addressed. What I'm saying is, by having it continually focused on Māori, Māori, Māori, Māori, there is 80 percent of the population who is sitting there going, 'Well it must only be a Māori problem'. Guess what, its an everybody problem and by focusing on one area, and saying let's lift up that area, we haven't got the power of the 80 percent behind us."

He is hoping the new campaign will help.

"With the help of families who have lost someone to suicide, we aim to change that.”

Survivors of suicide are invited to share the thoughts they were having during this particularly challenging time, and whānau are being asked to share the final words from their loved ones by uploading a scan at 1000letters.co.nz.

Mike King spoke about the 1000 Letters campaign at parliament on World Suicide Prevention Day. Source: Te Ao.

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:

• 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
• https://www.lifeline.org.nz/services/suicide-crisis-helpline
• 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 or TEXT 4202