A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Kiwis taking their own lives.

by Fr Brian O'Connell sm

During the last week there has been a lot of media comment about suicide rates in NZ. This is unusual because there are strict rules about reporting suicide in the media. First came the scary statistic that in 2008 NZ had the highest rate in the OECD countries for young women 15-24 yrs. (The OECD is a group of about 30 developed countries committed to democracy and a market economy). This statistic has since been played down because some OECD countries under-report their suicides out of national pride.

Then came an announcement from the chief Coroner on the NZ figures for the last four years. It was not good news. The national total has stayed steady at 540 suicides per year average. Put against the annual road toll 375 it looks downright disturbing. Further details of the figures showed that three times more men take their own lives than women, and the most at risk group were men 20 -24 which is the third highest in the OECD. The most at risk group of women were the 50-54 age group. . The Coroner published the figures because he thought these matters ought to be addressed.

He is right. Those responsible for the mental health of the nation claim they have been starved of resources to help people at risk. In the face of these statistics politicians are promising more help

The Catholic Church teaches that God is the source and sovereign Master of human life. We are stewards not owners of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of. Suicide is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends the love of neighbour (family, friends and groups) who continue to have obligations. It is also contrary to love for the living God. (CCC n.2281) Of course in most cases grave psychological disturbance and anguish diminishes responsibility of the one committing suicide. Accordingly we do not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. God’s mercy knows no bounds. The church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.

One curious aspect of the figures is that after the deadly earthquake in Christchurch, suicides in that city fell away to almost zero. The same phenomenon had been noted after the Brisbane floods, and the Victorian bushfires. It seems that depressed people whose life had no meaning suddenly discovered a reason to live, simply that they were alive and others were not, and were possibly in a position to help and so felt solidarity with others. This unusual benefit from catastrophe may hold the key to arresting the alarmingly high rates this country has been experiencing.

In other words, whatever gives people value in their own eyes, gives a reason to live, to be needed by others. Accordingly what brings the suicide rate down will be a range of factors, each of which is capable of being the ‘circuit-breaker’ for a person who is in a downward spiral towards self-harm. The high rate of youth unemployment (18%) has to be addressed for example. A real job that pays reasonably is a bulwark against depression. While the group at risk is reasonably small, there must be enough mental health workers trained to spot the signs of trouble and who have the resources to intervene effectively.

Christians need to be pro-life in every sense, and radiate faith in a living God who cherishes every person created in God’s own image.

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1 Responses »

  1. Thank you. A welcome and thought-provoking article. God does indeed love each and every one of us with passion.