Yesterday we went into the community of Glen Innes
Following a spate of youth suicides and an outpouring of grief by the friends of the young people who died, we were invited into this community. They asked us to give them information on suicide in Maori and Pasific communities, effective Tikanga based prevention strategies and talk from our experience about how best to support those bereaved by suicide.
The advice they had been given by the Ministry of Health didn't sit comfortably but they wanted to evaluate the evidence underpinning a Tikanga approach before choosing to reject the advice of the Ministry.
One of their key issues was the message that the friends of the young person who had died should not be allowed to spend time at their home, with their family, that this was somehow unhealthy and would lead to 'suicide contagion.'
We shared our experience as the mothers of children dead from suicide who welcomed our children's friends into our homes and lives in those first weeks and months of grief. We shared that our children's friends had, like the young people in Glen Innes, wanted to spend time in their friends room, surrounded by their possessions. They had taken our children's ashes for rides in their cars, talked to them about how they were feeling, laughed, cried, prayed, grieved and celebrated with each other and with us. They are all still alive. They are doing great. And they believe that without this process, neither of those things may be true.
As the people of Glen Innes listened to us it seemed they had a 'light bulb' moment. The Ministry was suggesting that these grieving youth should be kept apart - from each other, from their friends parents from the tangible reminders of the love and memories they shared with their friend. In deciding how to approach the support for their rangitahi, they said "This is how we do things as Maori. We gather together, we eat together, pray together, cry together, remember together. This is what our young people are wanting to do, this is our our youth being Maori. Why would be deny them that?"