606 pairs of empty shoes: the growing toll of suicide in New Zealand

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Suicide is New Zealands silent outbreak. The country has the highest youth suicide rates in the developed world and some people want to talk about it

It has been just over a year since Georgia MacBeath succumbed, when life subsistence was turned off at the hospital where she was taken.

Georgia had been discovered unconscious in the garage of her home in Rotorua in New Zealand’s North Island.

A priest and a doctor had been cycling past when they noticed something amiss. Another couple playing Pokemon Go rushed to help. In all up to 10 people scrambled to revive the 19 -year-old. But she had planned to die.

For Georgia’s mother, Suzy Taylor, her daughter’s suicide has been like torture.

” It’s like she died 365 days. Every hour I wake up I’m forced to live in this world. There’s no pill I can take , nothing I can drink , no place that I can go to , no person that I can see that is going to make this any different – it’s a life sentence .”

Taylor has known the sorrow of suicide before. Her spouse took his own life in 1995; so did her best friend in 2001.

Suicide is New Zealand’s silent epidemic. The country has the highest youth suicide rates in the developed world- five times that of Britain and twice as high as Australia.

Latest figures released the coming week depict more New Zealanders are taking their lives than ever before. The number of deaths has risen for three years in a row to 606 in the year ending 30 June, from 579 the previous year.

For such a crisis the response has garnered little attention, according to some who are pushing for this national tragedy to be addressed head on.

In early August, three bereaved mothers, who all lost children aged under 25, sent a letter to political parties on behalf of 200 other bereaved families, asking for six things: an independent inquiry into mental health; restoring NZ $2.3 bn( PS1. 3bn/ AU$ 2bn) in the area of health fund; setting a suicide reduction target; increasing primary health and GP funding; committing to safe staffing; and making every home healthy.

” As families who have lost loved ones to suicide, we know a bit about courage. We’ve had to ask ourselves difficult, uncomfortable questions ,” they wrote.

” We need you to have courage too. We need you to ask difficult questions about our mental health system. You’ll need the gallantry to put aside politics and do what is right for every Kiwi .”

The 606 pairs of shoes represent each person lost in the past year to suicide in New Zealand. Photo: Mead Norton/ Getty Images

Cross-party support is now mounting for introducing suicide reduction strategies.

Labour subsistences a reduction target and new leader Jacinda Ardern reminded thousands at her electoral campaign launch that every New Zealander knew someone has an impact on mental health problems or suicide.

” Yesterday I asked a room full of young person if they did, and every single hand in that room was lifted into the air. Every single one ,” she said.” While there is a lot of talk about targets, I know I will never be satisfied so long as there is even one life lost .”

Labour says it will inject$ 8bn into health fund and review mental health services in its first 100 days if elected.

While the governing National party has been accused of dragging its heels on supporting a suicide reduction aim, health minister Jonathan Coleman saying he is” attempting advice “.

An expert panel was established to advise the ministry of health on ways to reduce the suicide rate. It recommended a reduction target as key to the ministry’s new suicide prevention strategy.

Current government spending on mental health is not keeping up with demand, economists say. But outside the political sphere, New Zealanders are combating over how to tackle the issue.

Some say children should not be exposed to talk of suicide, while others say it is precisely what needs to happen to tackle stubborn suicide rates.

Mental health crusader and comedian Mike King speaks to schools across New Zealand about suicide rates. But lately he was prevented from going into three South Island schools, as part of a planned eight-school tour, on advice from the district health committee suicide prevention co-ordinator, Annette Beautrais.

Beautrais has repeatedly declined to comment to media, but reportedly told schools King’s talks were “dangerous” to children. King highlights the fact that standpoint is “misinformed”.

Samara Read, a 16 -year-old who has lost three of her teenage friends to suicide, and has depression herself, believes the only route forward is to talk openly and to give young people something to hope for in the future.

She called on prime minister Bill English to put himself in her place.” Can you walk in my shoes for a month and make another decision ,” she urged English when she addressed a meet of the shoe project.

” We poison our livers get drunk trying to find some healing, and go to our friends’ tombs to exclaim .”

This week, Suzy Taylor stood holding a pair of Georgia’s white sandals at a gathering on the lakefront in Rotorua. Those shoes are amongst 606 pairs of heels, boots, trainers and sandals laid out starkly in rows to represent the annual suicide toll.

Her daughter Georgia first tried to take their own lives on moms’ day in 2016.” The only emotion I find on her face was that she meant to die ,” Taylor says.

Georgia had been diagnosed with depression three years earlier in Dunedin, in South Island, and had been prescribed antidepressants and treated by a counsellor.

Taylor says her daughter had made progress and believes things had been looking brighter. But she says the country needs a wake-up bellow: that the route people in New Zealand are treated when they try to take their lives has not changed in the 22 years since her husband died as a result of suicide.

” This needs to be “was talkin about a”. Our young people need to have something to look forward to .”

The shoe project is supported by the YesWeCare health coalition and the Public Service Association, New Zealand’s health union .

* Lifeline Aotearoa can be reached in New Zealand on 0508 828 865. In the UK, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Hotlines in other countries can be found here .

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