Counselling the 'missing step' in preventing suicide

By Peata Melbourne

The New Zealand Association of Counsellors (NZAC) says more pastoral care is needed at primary school level following the suspected self-inflicted deaths of two primary school girls in recent days.  One school guidance counsellor told Te Kāea, the country's social pressures are having a major impact on suicide rates and more needs to be done at the top of the cliff than the bottom.

Two young children's lives this week were lost this week and mental health practitioners have spoken openly to media of the mounting pressure on the health system, and now counsellors are pointing to another area of concern.

New Zealand Association of Counsellors spokesperson Sarah Maindonald says, "If we put all the funding into mental health services at the bottom of the cliff then often that bridge is missing, that step's missing for young people in terms of getting that help."

That missing step she says is having more counselling and robust pastoral care systems from primary through to secondary schools where signs of psychological distress can be identified.

"So what's good is if teachers are up-skilled so they can actually recognise symptoms of concern then if you've got a counsellor in the school they can do that next step."

Maindonald, a school guidance counsellor herself is not surprised at the suspected self-inflicted  deaths of 9 and ten-year-old girls earlier this week. Her own hometown Christchurch has one of the highest suicide rates in the country following the 2011 earthquake. Social disconnection Maindonald believes is one of the underlying causes for high suicide statistics in New Zealand.

"I think children are more and more under stress, more families are under stress and I think that's what we've got to do is we've actually go to support families because taking two parents often to work to maintain a family often means it's more of a struggle to have that quality time with students."

She says it's an issue we must come to grips with as a nation so we can make systemic changes, as many suicides, particularly those of children, are preventable.