Helping build resilience in children and teens is vital to prepare them for the inevitable storms life brings, Dr Chris Bowden says.
Wellington-based Dr Bowden spoke in Gore on Tuesday night about suicide prevention.
Dr Bowden completed his undergraduate studies in education and psychology at the University of Otago, focusing on child and adolescent development.
Developing communication skills and learning coping strategies helped young people to build resilience, he said.
“All of these things help people.”
Asking those gathered, “whose job was it to teach resilience to young people?”, his answer was “the whole community”.
Some families had a variety of struggles but because of good support they were able to teach resilience to children and create an environment of acceptance and care, he said.
The support could come from areas such as teachers, friends, churches and neighbours, Dr Bowden said.
He urged parents not to shield children from difficulties but to help them find a way through them.
Letting children find their way through life’s struggles was healthy as that built resilience and they knew they could cope with life when they grew up, he said.
He warned against many suicide awareness campaigns, saying they were limited in their effects.
Awareness might give people more knowledge and make them more understanding but “it doesn’t make someone more likely to offer help or ask for help”.
One-to-one contact with a lonely person, such as having a cup of tea with them, was more effective, he said.
Anyone could make a difference in the life of a person who was having suicidal thoughts or was vulnerable, just by offering friendship and a message of hope.
Those who had been close to someone who committed suicide were more likely to choose that option themselves, so there needed to be ongoing care and communication with those people, he said.
New Zealand’s model of mental healthcare had some challenges, he said.
“We have a one-size-fits-all that is not working.”
Some people might only need one or two counselling sessions, while others might need in-patient care, whereas at present people all underwent the same care routine, he said.
Mataura community development co-ordinator Eleanor Ranstead said Dr Bowden’s presentation was based on a common-sense approach.
Most people had no idea what to say to someone who had been close to someone who had committed suicide, but all they needed to do was to ask the person how they could help, she said.
Where to get help
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828-865 Lifeline: 0800 543-354
Depression Helpline, open 24/7 0800 111-757.
Healthline: 0800 611-116
Youthline: 0800 376-633, free text 234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
What’s Up (for 5-18 year olds; 1pm-11pm): 0800 942-8787
Kidsline (aimed at children up to age 14; 4pm-6pm weekdays): 0800 543-754 (0800 kidsline)