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If we think of New Zealand, it is likely that what comes to mind is a beautiful nature, with fjords, mountains and vast landscapes, empty and infinite.
But for years the country has been fighting against another form of isolation: depression and suicide .
A new UNICEF report contains an alarming fact: New Zealand has, by far, the highest adolescent suicide rate in the developed world.
It is shocking but it is not a surprise , since it is not the first time that the country occupies that position in the ranking.
The teen suicide rate (people between 15 and 19 years old) is the largest in a long list of 41 European countries and the OECD, according to the UNICEF report.
The figure of 15.6 suicides per 100,000 people is double that of the United States, and almost five times greater than that of the United Kingdom.
Why New Zealand?
There is a combination of reasons, and it is important not to be left alone with statistics, cautions Dr. Prudence Stone of Unicef in New Zealand.
The high suicide rate is linked to other data, such as child poverty, high rates of teen pregnancy or families in which neither parent works.
New Zealand also has “one of the worst records in the world of bullying, ” says Shaun Robinson of the New Zealand Mental Health Foundations.
Robinson explains that there is a “toxic mix” of high rates of family violence, child abuse and poverty that need to be addressed to alleviate the problem.
New Zealand’s own statistics also reveal that suicide rates are higher for young Maori and Pacific Islander men.
“This shows us that there are also issues related to cultural identity and the impact of colonization,” he says.
According to the most recent data from 2014, the suicide rate among Maori men in all age groups is 1.4 times higher than that of non-Maori.
“It is alarming to see and perhaps it is an indicator of the level of institutional and cultural racism in our society,” says Stone.
“There is no research that allows us to conclude it, but clearly this suggests it.”
After these figures there may be another factor that some cite as a possible cause.
Health and support services in all Western countries have for years been fighting the stigma attached to perceived depression as a form of weakness.
And this may be, in fact, a bigger problem in New Zealand than in other countries.
“There is a tradition of a harsh male culture in New Zealand,” says Stone.
“This puts pressure on men to be in a particular way, on boys to harden themselves into those hard-drinking beer drinkers.”
The doctor says that there has been a small change in recent years, in which musicians and filmmakers have emerged as examples of another type of New Zealand man , people who are not the typical tough guy, but show another more playful approach to masculinity. .
“In much of the Western world, the attitude is to grind your teeth and hold on,” says Briana Hill, a spokeswoman for Youthline, a telephone helpline aimed at young people.
“But I think there’s definitely an added stoicism in New Zealand psychology, like ‘I’m going to come out of this alone’, that it might not be that much in other countries.”
It is not that there is no support system, but the truth is that it is overloaded.
The demand for services has shot up to 70% in the last decade, Robinson explains, while the number of calls related to suicides received by the police have increased by 30% in the last four years alone.
It’s a problem that Briana Hill, from the aforementioned youth helpline, is very familiar with. There are too many calls that simply can not answer , he says, because they do not have the capacity.
The widespread feeling in the expert community is that there has to be more funding to help the services address this problem.
But just as important is that there is a more general approach to raise awarenessabout the problem and to prioritize it.
“The country is not doing a good job helping its young people to be able to handle the pressure, the stress, the emotional and mental challenges they face,” says Robinson.
However, the persistence of the problem over the years has caused it to scale priorities on the politicians’ agenda.
The issue has become the subject of political debate before the general electionsthat are held in the country in September of this year.
In April, the government published a draft of a national suicide prevention strategy that is currently in the public consultation phase.
But although there is much debate about that draft, even those who say it falls short agree that it is an important step to put more in the public focus these very high rates of suicide.