Families asked to share suicide victims' letters with researchers to assist study

Mental health advocate Mike King is fronting a new campaign asking loved ones to share final letters left behind by those have taken their own lives.

Tuesday marks World Suicide Prevention Day, and as part of a new study, King and mental health charity The Key To Life Charitable Trust are asking families and friends to send in the final words of loved ones who died by suicide.

The study hopes to look at 1000 letters or messages to understand the reasons why so many people take their own lives "with the aim of using the research to inform future interventions and suicide prevention efforts," says a statement from the charity.

King said over the course of his work he has found families often want to contribute to help stop suicide.

He told Newshub that listening to those who have taken their own lives makes sense. 

"If you want to know why someone has taken their own life, isn't it obvious that we ask the people that took their own lives?

"We want to hear from the people, We want to know what is going on so maybe, just maybe, we can improve things so nobody else has to go through what they went through."

Psychotherapist and chair of The Key to Life charity Kyle MacDonald said that it was a contentious topic, but the information received would be handled appropriately. 

"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," he said in a statement. 

"We have long known that there is an absence of research of this kind in New Zealand.  With the help of families who have lost someone to suicide, we aim to change that."

In August, new figures revealed 685 people took their own lives in the year to June - 17 more than in the previous year.

The youth suicide rate is also up, particularly in the 15 - 19 age range, with 20 more deaths by suicide than the year before. Eighty-four young New Zealanders between the ages of 10 and 19 died by suicide in the 2018 - 2019 period. Eleven of them were under the age of 15.

Ninety-one Kiwis aged 20 - 24 died by suicide, 15 more than the previous year.

Families and friends who may want to share letters or notes can visit iamhope.org.nz for more information.

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