Suicides to go public

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The country’s chief coroner plans to unveil local suicide numbers – including for Queenstown where they’re being hushed up. 

Neil MacLean says from next year he hopes to publicise location breakdowns of self-inflicted deaths. 

This would be the first time such information has been available in Queenstown where coroner David Crerar, who rules on all resort fatalities, is legally hushing up self-inflicted deaths. 

MacLean says this week: “For the last two years I have released national suicide statistics gained from our database – and next year hope to be able to narrow down the location breakdowns to include specific stats on places like Queenstown. 

“The suicide toll is a concerning commentary on our society but receives less public attention than the road toll which is far less in numbers. 

“The coronial system has a definite role to play in the explanation and prevention of suicide – we’re not the experts in suicide prevention but have the ability to help bring the toll down,” MacLean says. 

His comments come a week after Mountain Scene reported Crerar’s restrictive approach is at odds with MacLean, who favours “a gentle opening-up of the guidelines of suicide reporting”. 

Crerar believes publicity may be detrimental to public safety – because it normalises suicide – and he’s also swayed by privacy considerations for bereaved relatives. Crerar determines the majority of suicides in closed session, preventing the public from ever knowing – at least officially – that victims died by their own hand. 

Locally, Mountain Scene has been told of at least 14 rumoured suicides between mid-2007 and last month. 

In the two years to mid-2007, nine Wakatipu and Wanaka people took their own lives, according to Southern District Health Board – and a further 25 Wakatipu people were admitted to hospital after attempting suicide between 2006-09. 

The national suicide picture is also grim. A total of 558 people died by their own hand in the year to June 30, 2011 – compared with the 2010 national road toll of 375 deaths. 

Prime Minister John Key has said we have the highest per capita youth suicide rate in the developed world for girls and the third-highest for boys. 

MacLean, during a segment on TV One’s Close Up show on Tuesday night, said: “I’m becoming convinced now there’s no point in hiding our heads in the sand. It’s important people know the reality of what’s going on and perhaps have a better chance of helping someone.”