The chief coroner has just released the number of suicides in New Zealand for the first six months of 2017. At 606, marking three years of successive rises, they make grim reading. The dominant age group is 21-24 year olds and the largest ethnic group is Maori; at 130 Maori people represent more than a quarter of those who have taken their own lives.
Suicides arise out of many causes: loss of a loved one or job, sickness or psychological afflictions – often deep depression. It represents the failure of hope, and depicts a world that has shrunk into a black hole where personal misery has absorbed and obliterated all else. Financial and social ruin may be overwhelming but deep down there’s also spiritual collapse. Suicide states there is no one out there whose love shines bright enough to overcome my darkness.
Some years back one of my students, who had been a senior public servant, wrote a doctoral thesis on whether Catholic social teaching had anything to offer government policy on areas such as poverty, housing and education. She concluded that government has good direction and aims, yet its efforts are too centralised. It’s too heavily reliant on bureaucratic control in Auckland and Wellington, while large numbers of volunteer groups, local communities and dedicated individuals languish for want of recognition and funding.
As Kiwis one of our engaging qualities is a hands-off attitude – we’re reserved and refrain from butting into other people’s private lives. But when suicide is a possibility we must learn to change. When depression, talk of death and withdrawal into solitude begin to show on someone’s face, we must stand up – by resort to counsellors, wider family and friends or caring neighbours.
Life is sacred, so warding off senseless death is a duty as well as a blessing.
Father Neil Vaney
This writing is based on the content of ‘What Catholics Believe’. Should you like to read more just click the link below to download the complete set of ‘What Catholics Believe’.