Dave Macpherson – Scientists, politicians and vested interest professionals don’t have the answer to youth suicide epidemic


A few days ago, the Prime Minister’s ‘Chief Science Adviser’ Peter Gluckman released a ‘discussion report’ on youth suicide.

Apart from being something that was massively overdue – this country has ‘led’ OECD nations for nearly 2 decades with the worst youth suicide statistics – Gluckman was clearly trying to help his employer get on the front foot over an issue that Governments have been appallingly ineffective on for all of that time.

From a 6-year Health Minister who only acknowledged the problem this month, to a Prime Minister who opposes the call for a full-scale review of the mental health system, the Government has been floundering on this life and death issue. Gluckman has been rolled out in an attempt to show – seven weeks out from the election – that some high-powered thinking is going into the issue.

In his normal arrogant manner, Gluckman dismissed “people who think they may know the answer”; i.e. those like campaigner Mike King, and the several families of victims who have been vocal on youth suicide, suggesting the issue is “more complex”, with an implication that ‘experts’ like himself should be left to sort it out.

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He is right that youth suicide is a complex issue, with no one cause or solution, but wrong to diss the families, campaigners, parents, teachers, youth workers, concerned media and coal-face mental health workers who wrestle with the issue on a daily basis. Their combined experience, and especially the bright light that they have shed on the issue over the last few years, will be a major part of what is needed to break the back of this awful societal disease.

Over the last few weeks, the NZ Herald has been running an extensive series of investigations and articles on youth suicide. In their own words “They uncovered an unprecedented and unreported youth suicide cluster in 2012; how NZ schools have been gagged from discussing suicide in classrooms; the rising number of suicidal children being turned down from our mental health services; and how almost half of our teenagers are self-harming before they leave school.”

Other mainstream and social media have also been extensively covering the same issue, despite antiquated reporting regulations, and – most importantly – the great unwashed are talking about it on the streets, in the pubs, in the offices, in the homes, and in the schools, despite idiotic attempts to stop that happening by some, such as the South Canterbury DHB ‘Suicide Prevention Co-ordinator’, who caused an invite to Mike King to address students in three Timaru-area schools to be cancelled.

In his report Gluckman focuses on building personal “resilience” and awareness among youth, combatting bullying, the isolating effects of the digital age, and the physical effects of alcohol.

In itself these are OK ideas, but not ones that address wider community factors like poverty and other socio-economic conditions. It is no secret that young Maori and Pacific Island males, and young people from ‘lower decile’ areas suffer much higher suicide rates than the norm, but tackling things like poverty, unemployment and homelessness is most definitely not on the Government’s agenda.

Reducing family poverty, giving realistic hope of employment and a better quality of life to look forward to will do wonders for a young person’s ‘resilience’. Focussing on the individual will no doubt help some individuals, but is unlikely to provide the sea change in this problem area that we all claim to be looking for.

So Mr Gluckman, and Messrs English and Coleman, leave it to the real experts to work through solutions in this area; listen to them, and support them with resources and facilities to make a different sort of difference. Commit to tackling poverty, youth unemployment and homelessness, and we’ll start making progress.


Dave Macpherson is TDB’s mental health blogger. He became a Waikato DHB member after his son died from mental health incompetence.


  1. Yes money Dave, rules here and truth walks.

    They know that their medical regimes are responsible for deaths of many now.

    Over 90% of all medications they use are derived from petro-chemicals made in laboratories to mimic the more harmless natural treatments our Grandparents and their grandparents used.

    But we all know those natural herbs/vitamins ec’t were not making enough money for the powerful medical industry so they were mostly taken off the treatments register and new powerful toxic “Prescription” drugs were designed for patents and used now as the standard treatments causing many side effects.

    Prescription drugs are designed to treat a specific illness or condition, but they often affect the body in other ways, some of which can be uncomfortable and in some cases, dangerous. These are called side effects.

    For example, opioid pain relievers can help with pain, but they can also cause constipation and sleepiness. Stimulants, such as Adderall, increase a person’s ability to pay attention, but they also raise blood pressure and heart rate, making the heart work harder.

    These side effects can be worse when prescription drugs are not taken as prescribed or are used in combination with other substances.

    The medical system is in a crisis and is far more profitable for manufacturers and are far more harmful to patients, than natural medicine and these prescription medicines race to the bottom just for profits must be stopped!!!!!


    • There are serious issues at stake with the crisis of teen suicide in NZ. The problem has many causes and no easy solutions. Raising a big pharm conspiracy theory is not helpful.

      • BACK TO YOU JLO73 – “Raising a big pharm conspiracy theory is not helpful.”


        IT IS A FACT!!!!!!!

        Potential Side Effects of Antidepressants = Violence and Worsened Depression

        In 2004, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) revised6 the labeling requirements for antidepressant medications (SSRI’s and others), warning that:

        “Antidepressants increased the risk compared to placebo of suicidal thinking and behavior (suicidality) in children, adolescents, and young adults in short-term studies of major depressive disorder (MDD) and other psychiatric disorders.

        Anyone considering the use of [Insert established name] or any other antidepressant in a child, adolescent, or young adult must balance this risk with the clinical need.”






        Alternative treatments for Depression
        The following products are considered to be alternative treatments or natural remedies for Depression. Their efficacy may not have been scientifically tested to the same degree as the drugs listed in the table above. However there may be historical, cultural or anecdotal evidence linking their use to the treatment of Depression.

        Gotu kola
        Natrol SAMe
        St. John’s wort


        • This is excellent news CLEANGREEN. The Government can defund Pharmac and all those expensive Physchiatrists and run with your herbal solution. Although given we are talking about teen suicide and it would seem most teens can’t even get to a counselor let alone be prescribed pills by a specialist, it would appear the big Pharma pills aren’t really the cause of the problem.

          • JLO73

            I agree that our medical system is a big mess as you say correctly, “it would seem most teens can’t even get to a counselor let alone be prescribed pills by a specialist,”

            In my experience after myself now have a disability, here is my lastest negative experience this month as I had an emergency last weekend.

            So was forced to drive 80kms to the nearest hospital emergency and was forced to wait 5hrs before seeing a GP!!!!

            No specialist was available I was told.

            He gave me opium and ibuprifen!!!

            I declined using them, as I suffer from severe drug reactions.

            But you said it “Raising a big pharm conspiracy theory is not helpful.”

            I was responding to that feedback and also offered our advise for anyone who wished to try a cheap safe option.

            Trying To be helpful here, – but as i said I have also had severe reactions to prescription medications; – which actually are the bulk of what those who go to seek medical treatment for depression.

            So I have already been there done that and altered my medications to use natural medications that have fewer severe effects.

            Hope it helps.

  2. My personal experience of policy wonks doing “research” on request of National governments goes thus.
    1.Here are the strict parameters of the study.
    2.Here is the carefully selected and related evidence.
    3.Here are the findings, (which discount any other views)
    4.These findings will be implemented next week.
    5.The directions are in the mail.
    6.The inputs and outputs should be measurable and cost effective
    7.The outcomes will be measured and collated in/ 2/ 5/10 years time.

    It is narrow heartless and controlling.

    I understood Mike King’s stand in a flash.

    • And when all commissions that are set up, come back with their recommendations, the government uses phrases like..

      “we disagree with their assertions”

      My question to the government is, why bother setting up these expert commissions, or ( and I know the answer already) is it like, lets find the right ACC clinician who will find in “our” favour that it was a pre-existing injury and therefore no payout.

      This rings true when the government states they ” have taken expert advice” and will be implementing the recommendations.

      Tell me why again, was the immigration policy reversed? Because expert analysis( i.e. the farmers and therefore their voters) says they were wrong.

      As for Health and Coleman. He is the Donald Trump of health. He is rouge.

  3. Suicide does not happen by coincidence, often there are long stories behind the sad fatalities.

    Mental health in New Zealand is in a really deep crisis now, and another incident shows, how horrible things can turn out if nothing is done to actually help people who cannot manage:

    More on the topic:

    How many more lives need to be lost, before the so called experts and politicians in this government get it?

    And perhaps, instead of talking about the symptoms, also look at the causes for this crisis, a society that does no longer care, but for consumerism, greed, endless competition and self promotion.

  4. Our Mental Health System has gone seriously downhill in the past 30-40 years, basically the Government does not care ?

  5. Kia ora Dave,
    Well done in keeping conversation going on the care of vulnerable young people in NZ. I can not know the pain that you and Jane have been through around the death of your son.
    We need to ensure that young people have hope in a positive future in NZ. We need to find better ways to take care of those who need respite from the world for a while. We need to find ways to keep them safe and provide a way forward for each of them.
    Gluckman’s response pr ides none of these.
    As a community we must devise a plan. It is clear the experts the current government calls upon have no idea. Not quite sure where to begin but Kia kaha Dave and kind regards to you and your family.

  6. Kia ora Dave, I wrote a long comment that seems to have got lost in cyberspace. Thank you for your relentless championing of this issue.
    Hope our community champions our vulnerable youth and gives them hope and care.
    Kia kana

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