NZ must address high youth suicide rates – expert

A visiting global expert on teenage health is giving New Zealand a glowing report card, with one exception – our high youth suicide rate.

UN advisor Professor Robert Blum says fewer Kiwi teens are drink driving and smoking, but parents and teachers need to make them feel better connected.   

Coasting through summer is a teenage rite of passage, but adolescence has its ups and downs.

Prof Blum is impressed with New Zealand's approach, but says our high youth suicide rate is not good enough. Last year alone, 46 teenagers aged between 15 and 19 took their own lives.

New Zealand's poverty levels too need attention.

"You can be blinded by a positive report card and fail to take into account there are whole neighbourhoods where poverty rates are very high, school leaving is very high," says Prof Blum.

He has simple advice for parents – eating one family meal a day together is key to staying connected.

"Talk to your kids, talk to them, talk to them, talk to them and when you don't believe they are listening keep talking, because they." 

He also believes every child should be known by at least one adult in every school.

Prof Blum has also stressed to policymakers here the need for taxing fatty foods and sugary drinks – his research offshore has found bad nutrition, alcohol and stress turn off crucial regulators in our body, making teens and adults more vulnerable to disease.

New Zealand is making real progress in teen health. In the past decade, 56 percent fewer teens have tried smoking, 40 percent less say they've tried marijuana, there's been a 55 percent decrease in teens drink driving, and 34 percent fewer getting into a car with a drunk behind the wheel.  

"As a society we often have these negative views of young people and naughty behaviours, but what our latest findings are saying is that young people are making much healthier decisions," says Dr Terryann Clark, principal investigator of New Zealand Adolescent Teen Health Group. 

"When trends look positive there's a sense we can stop, we don't need to do anything more, but the evidence says not true."

And if overseas experience is anything to go by, complacency could be a new hurdle New Zealand has to jump through in addressing teen health.

If you or someone you know is experiencing depression, contact Lifeline on 0800 543 354 (outside Auckland) or 09 522 2999 (within Auckland) for 24-hour telephone counselling. Alternatively, contact the Suicide Crisis Helpline on 0508 828 865.

3 News

source: newshub archive