Families and Communities Preventing Suicide in New Zealand

When told of my son’s sudden suicide, people often ask me how on earth it is possible to carry on living after your child takes his or her life. The honest answer is that I don’t know. Somehow you keep breathing while contemplating your own suicide, keep doing the next thing without letting yourself think beyond whatever that is. For the longest time you don’t live, you just exist.

In the weeks after Toran’s death I made three medically serious suicide attempts. Given that I had been prescribed five psychoactive drugs to ‘treat’ my grief, that’s hardly surprising. And then something happened that gave me no choice but to put my plans for my own death on hold – mental health services began to target my son’s girlfriend. She was called repeatedly and urged to seek help and a prescription for Prozac to assist her with her grief. Her parents and school counsellor were contacted and urged to get her on to medication.

At that time my world was as uncertain a place as it is possible to imagine. There was no doubt in my mind however that my son would want me to do everything I could to ensure that she did not take the drug that had killed him. I began to put together the information I believed she needed to make a fully informed decision on taking the drug including information on how grief, along with most of our moods and behaviours following trauma and distress, is what makes us human, not what makes us mad.

In New Zealand there is no Black Box warning on antidepressants. The packets contain no information leaflet outlining risks and possible adverse effects. Despite being one of only two countries in the world that allows these drugs to be advertised on TV, doctors do not warn their patients of the risks of suicide, homicide, mania, psychosis and all the other potential adverse reactions known to be associated with them.

In 2010 1.3million antidepressants were prescribed to 485,000 New Zealanders. There was a 140% increase in prescribing to babies and children aged 0-4 years. These figures do not include hospital based prescriptions or prescriptions for the unsubsidised drugs that appear on our television in advertisements that exhort consumers to ask their doctor for the drug by name.

Some time later, having teamed up with another mum who had lost her child to suicide, this desire to share with others the knowledge that underpins fully informed consent and which is rarely provided to consumers, became the basis for a non-profit organisation. In August 2010 we launched CASPER, Community Action on Suicide Prevention Education & Research.

CASPER’s mission involved three key streams of work:

1.  Reclaiming suicide prevention from psychiatrists and providing information and support to families and communities who rightfully and most effectively lead this work.

2. Educating politicians and opinion leaders on the efficacy of a social rather than mental health approach to suicide prevention.

3.  Providing support for families through inquests and other inquiries into the deaths of their loved ones to ensure that truth, accountability and change are achieved.


In the past 18 months, CASPER has travelled New Zealand delivering free information presentations to communities around the country. Giving families and communities the information we didn’t have before our children died and that we believe could have saved their lives. We have met with the Prime Minister, his Chief Science Adviser, the Commissioner for Children, the Families Commission and numerous politicians. We have achieved our goal of being a go-to agency for the media for any stories associated with suicide. We have brought two international researchers to New Zealand to discuss the links between psychoactive drugs and suicide.

Along the way we have collected three skilled and dedicated colleagues, over 2200 families bereaved by suicide and supporters and joined with other families bereaved by suicide across Canada, the US and the UK.

We have published the CASPER Suicide Prevention Strategy a document that sets out the literature underpinning a sociological approach to suicide prevention, secured a million dollar sponsorship deal and most importantly given our beloved children a legacy that saves the lives of others.

That’s how we keep taking the next breath, putting one foot in front of the other and finding some sort of purpose in continuing to live. You can check out our work at www.casper.org.nz and on our facebook page at www.facebook.com/Caspercommunity



  1. I think people who don’t want psychiatric care should avoid seeking medical attention for their psychiatric complaints. We psychiatrists don’t want to “own” suicide prevention, but when someone becomes our patient, we are responsible for treating with the standard of care. Risks and benefits of medications are discussed with patients who, in turn, either consent to treatment of opt no forgo treatment (or pursue some other form of treatment). I have never heard of antidepressants being administered involuntarily. Long before the advent of antidepressants, people who suffered from mental illness committed suicide. The post hoc reasoning that underlies the assertion that antidepressants are causing suicide is simply flawed. It’s a correlation/causation dilemma that has numerous confounding factors, not the least of which is that people prescribed antidepressants are typically depressed and in crisis at the time they’re initially prescribed meds. But back to my original point: neither I nor any psychiatrists I know are out their recruiting patients. People come to us, seeking what we offer, which is a biopsychosocial approach to tackling mental illness. If patients, for whatever reason, don’t want that approach taken, then they should seek care elsewhere.

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    • Dear Dr. Nasky,

      I sympathize with your obvious irritation at people pushing the SSRI-caused suicide issue. It must have been quite comfortable for you to be practicing in New Zealand, far off the heavy traffic lines where for the past dozen years documents and depositions gradually exposed the cesspool of deception underlying the cover-up of SSRI suicides and withdrawal symptoms.

      Particularly in the U.S., where the legal crowbar has been available to pry the smiling mask off the face of BigPhRMA, public sentiment readily assumes that:

      (1) prescribing doctors are suckers for pharmaceutical company inducements,
      (2) leading academic researchers and spokespersons dance to the tune of Pharma funds and “arranged” prestige,
      (3) their government regulatory agency (FDA) is infiltrated and compromised by Pharma,
      (4) the billions of dollars paid by Pharma to individuals in private damages suits and to the government in fraud cases is only the tip of the iceberg,
      (5) it is time to not only take the money but to put Pharma executives in jail,
      (6) psychiatrists are pompous, checklist-ticking quacks whose sole function is to operate the pen which signs the prescription pad thereby triggering the deposit of $$ into the bank accounts of BigPhRMA and themselves.

      Thank you for the opportunity to welcome you to the future. Your irritation-factor will undoubtedly continue to increase. Anxiety and depression loom on the horizon. Anticipate your serotonin levels dropping and keep your prescription pad handy.

      One last thing. When your self-prescribed SSRI of choice has eliminated your environmental problems, you may stop taking it. In that event, should you begin to experience electrical zaps in your brain and vision “lags” when you turn your head, these are manifestations of a relapse of your depression and anxiety.

      Any cognitive dissonance you have regarding the fact that these symptoms were not previously experienced should be disregarded. Just re-start your SSRI and it will go away, therefore it wasn’t caused by the drug!

      “Cognitive Dissonance Disorder” will be appearing in DSM-V with a nice checklist of symptoms. It’s not much of a money-maker though — the disorder yields most readily to alcoholic beverages.

      Best regards

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    • Never heard of antidepressents being adminsitered involuntary, means you have NEVER entered a psychaitric inpatient unit and that is impossible. You cannot train to become a psychiatrist without treating people involuntarily and to say that ALL such people consent is so niave it is beyond belief. ANY consent given in a psychiatric hospital is consent to get out of there. Act like an obedient child and you have some chance of leaving alive.

      As for offering a biopsychosocail model, please explain that in more detail. A 10 minute medication check once a month is not psychosocail in nature. In fact even psychaitrists themselves have on the whole acknowledged that they actually need to begin to practise biopsychosocial and not just bio bio bio if they are to have any respect from the ocmmunity. If you are claiming that you offer a full biopsychosocial response I would love to know what that actually means to you in day to day practise. To say that you tell people to go and seek psychosocial responses from elsewhere is not providing a psychosocial response.

      Psychiatrists claim that depression causes suicidal attempts, you also claim that such conditions can be very effectively treated. Now when the evidence is provided that you are making people more depressed, your simple response is to blame it all on them. No wonder psychiatry has so many problems. What happen to ethical evidenced based medicine. Opps, in psychaitry that does not exist.

      NO ONE can give informed consent if they are not given full and accurate information. Telling us we have a chemcial imbalance in the brain and will require this medication for life and that it will treat our brain based condition and any side effects are mild and inconsequential is not and cannot be considered as fully informed consent. Tell people that these drugs have a 100 – 200% chance of making them acutely suicidal, tell them that the side effects could kill them and tell them that there is very little evidence that they actully work and then MAYBE someone can give informed consent. Providing informed consent, requires being given full and accurate information on which to make the decision. Since you do not provide that full and accurate information NO ONE can give informed consent. NOT ONE of your patients has EVER given informed consnet as they have NEVER been provided with accurate information on which to base the decision!

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  2. Well done Maria, you are doing a fantastic job. Toran would be so proud of you.

    Kevin, that is so typical of psychiatry, to blame the persons underlying depression. How do you explain when a person on a supposed ANTIdepressant still goes on to commit suicide? Not a very effective drug! Not on it long enough? Wrong dose? That particular drug didn’t suit him/her perhaps?
    People may come to you alright, thinking you are going to make them better though, not to be given drugs that can make them suicidal but you won’t tell them that because you either believe what the drug reps are telling you or you are being paid honoraria by the drug companies.
    What you are saying is not just simply flawed but disgustingly so. You would have very few patients coming to you if you told them that the medication you prescribe can kill them.
    Leonie (Mother of a perfect son who went on to commit suicide/homicide after 17 days on Celexa)

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  3. Maria and in return Leonie, I respect both of you for having the courage to ask the real questions about why your child killed themselves. By being able to do what has to be the hardest thing possible you are able to save others. Most parents are led to believe it was because there child was non compliant with medication, was hiding symptoms and the like. Mind you no such evidence exists of this. It takes incredibly courage to do the work that you have done when the whole of society is telling you otherwise, when the reason given for your’s suicide attempt was the chemical imbalance in there brain, etc. Thank you for having the courage to ask the real questions and in return save thousands of other young people. It has to be the hardest thing in the world.

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