Hiding the Bodies of Suicide Victims

New Zealand has the highest rate of youth suicide in the OECD. The numbers of people who die from suicide in this country are twice that of deaths from road traffic crashes. More young people under the age of 25 die from suicide than from all medical causes combined. Our youngest victim last year was 6 years old and 10% of the deaths of our 10-14 year olds are suicides.

You might think that suicide prevention would be a key focus for the New Zealand government and that public pressure to address the issue would be high. In fact, as the bodies of our children mount up, most New Zealanders are completely unaware of the statistics as the government introduces new legislation, policy and processes to hide the bodies and avoid local and international scrutiny.

In addition to legislation making it illegal for the media and families of suicide victims to talk about suicide deaths, we have moved to reduce the data we collect on suicide and to ensure that the data that is collected is reported in a way that is misleading and downplays the numbers of suicides.

Until 2006, it was compulsory in New Zealand to hold an inquest into a suspected suicide. Legislative change in that year saw the holding of an inquest become discretionary with Coroners having the option of reaching a verdict ‘on the papers.’ This means the Coroner sitting in chambers reading the victims medical file and a file prepared by the police who have no specific training in investigating suicide.

A hearing on the papers means none of the evidence is tested under cross examination but is taken at face value by the Coroner and no expert testimony is produced.

Given my son Toran’s medical file incorrectly records his name and place of birth, incorrectly identifies his primary caregiver and records that a mental health professional last met with him 11 days after he died and 6 days after he was cremated, this is problematic to say the least. The police file on Toran’s death shows the investigating officer failed to interview the last person who saw him alive or the person to whom he made a phone call immediately before hanging himself and forgot to tick the box requesting that his blood be tested for the Prozac which has subsequently been found to be the most likely cause of his death. Inaccurate medical files and incompetent police investigations are standard in the case files of the children whose families I work with.

For most Coroners a medical file showing a child was on antidepressants at the time of their suicide will be recorded as evidence that the child suffered depression and held up to be the cause of their suicide, rather than a signal that the drug may have contributed to the death. This assumption will go unchallenged in a chambers hearing.

The government scientists who conduct toxicology testing in suicide deaths were instructed in 2008 that testing for psychiatric drugs should only be conducted where specifically requested by a Coroner. Coroners advise that they order testing only for drugs suspected to have directly caused the death through poisoning but not for drugs present at therapeutic levels.

Despite a Ministry of Health research report which showed increases in antidepressant prescribing is causally linked with increases in hospitalisation for serious suicide attempts[1], the Coroner’s court does not collect data on the numbers of suicide victims using or withdrawing from antidepressants.

A recent Official Information Act request on trends in hearing types for suspected suicide deaths produced data showing that the percentage of cases being heard at a full inquest dropped from 100% in 2006 to 9.5% in 2010.

 

You would think that the advantages of these deaths not going to inquest would be that families would not be left waiting the 2-3 years for hearings that are common in this country. You might think this would allow the Ministry of Health to report suicide numbers in the year the deaths occur, rather than 2 years after, as is standard practice. In fact, the delay in reporting has increased, with the Ministry’s 2009 suicide figures being released on 24 April 2012. Contrast this with road traffic deaths in this country which are updated daily.

So having made sure that as little data as possible is being collected, the government then makes sure the data we do have is reported in a way that misleads people into thinking suicide rates are under control, the problem is reducing and no one need worry their pretty little heads about it too much.

In addition to being outdated, the statistics reported by the Ministry of Health are very obviously inaccurate. The publication on suicides published in 2010, reported 497 deaths from suicide in 2008. Very quietly, without any public comment or media attention, the most recent report revises this figure up to 520 retrospectively adding to the total the 23 suicide deaths (4.7%) that at the time of publication had not received verdicts and were therefore excluded from the published figures.

The report published last week shows 506 suicide deaths in 2009. The Ministry of Health are proudly announcing this is a drop from the previous year’s figure, the revised figure of 520. If however, this report also undercounts the numbers of deaths by 4.7% we can expect the true figure for 2009 to be 529 which of course represents an increase rather than decrease in suicide deaths.

This is the pattern in the official government suicide statistics. Release figures which are known to exclude around 5% of cases and proudly announce they are lower than the previous years figures which have quietly been revised upwards to include the cases excluded in the original count. Revise the figures up again in the next years report without being open about having done so and then use those figures to argue that the latest ones, which also exclude 5% of deaths, are lower than the previous year. Don’t draw attention to the fact that the figures that were proudly proclaimed to represent a drop in suicide numbers last year, have now been increased by 5% and in fact show suicide numbers are increasing.

Despite youth suicide being at crisis levels in New Zealand, the media ignore this deliberate misleading of the New Zealand public and remarkably also ignore the fact that the Ministry’s figures differ markedly from the figures released by the Chief Coroner who reported 541 suicide deaths in 2009 against the Ministry’s 506 suicides.

The Chief Coroner’s figure includes suicides that have not yet had a coroners verdict but which have been reported by the police as suspected suicides. If the Chief Coroner is correct (and he has not revised the 2009 figures in his subsequent reports in 2010 and 2011), then the 541 suicide deaths in 2009 are 6.7% higher than those of the Ministry and represent an increase on the Ministry’s 2008 figures of 4%. That the Chief Coroner has begun to release his own figures speaks volumes about his lack of confidence in the Ministry and his frustration at the 2 year delay in government reporting of suicide data.

In addition to reporting completed suicide, the Ministry report on hospitalisation for intentional self harm. Again however they deliberately skew the data by only reporting data for those hospitalised for more than two days. The vast majority of those who attempt suicide or self harm spend several hours in an emergency room waiting to see a psychiatric registrar and are then sent home to the care of their families. These events are not included in the Ministry’s reporting. Admittance to hospital for self harm or suicide attempts is rare and the figures again, fail to report the true extent of the problem. The Ministry could easily report emergency room cases of suicide attempt or self harm but chooses not to.

Meanwhile in the background we have the poor old Minister with responsibility for suicide prevention, Peter Dunne, desperately trying to convince the public that the OECD is wrong and New Zealand’s youth suicide rate is not the worst in the world. “It is disappointing, but the OECD comparison needs to be taken with considerable caution, especially given that stigma, cultural and social issues in some countries mean there is a real reluctance to report deaths as suicides,” Mr Dunne said[2]

Really Mr Dunne? The US, UK, Australia, Ireland, Canada and other comparator countries are hiding suicides while New Zealand is eager to report them? Their culture and social environments are so different from ours that comparisons cannot be made? The Kiwis reading this will know what I mean when I say this sounds like a Tui billboard.[3]


[1] http://www.health.govt.nz/publication/patterns-antidepressant-drug-prescribing-and-intentional-self-harm-outcomes-new-zealand-ecological

[2] http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10801149

[3] For those of you who don’t know about Tui Billboards – google images will put you in the picture.

27 COMMENTS

  1. “A hearing on the papers means none of the evidence is tested under cross examination but is taken at face value ”

    A psychiatrist detaining someone under the commitment laws is done ‘on the papers’ where none of the evidence of ‘dangerousness’ is tested under cross examination either. This is why locking people up to prevent suicide is a system that inevitably locks people up who were not even suicidal.

    I know of no drug that ’causes’ someone to make any decision, let alone the decision to end one’s life. Drugs can impair decision making for sure. But to wholly blame Prozac for a decision, is just the same as wholly blaming alcohol for a decision. Usually it is only the disapproved of decisions and actions that get blamed on drugs. People have been making the impulsive decision to kill themselves or others while drunk for thousands of years, yet Prozac is somehow imbued with this magical power to ’cause’ decisions. I disagree with it.

    I agree that it is not proper that deaths are not being investigated thoroughly.

    • I’m assuming your disagreement with the notion that Prozac and other psychiatric drugs are causally linked with suicide is based on issues you have with the methodology or conclusions of the scientific literature, rather than just a personal opinion. I find the work of people like Prof David Healy on this subject robust and credible and would be interested to know what your concerns about the findings are.

      My child experienced intense suicidal thinking and behaviour when commencing fluoxetine, ceased to experience this when the drug was withdrawn and then killed himself when restarting it. My government has acknowledged the drug is the most likely cause of his suicide.

      My son’s case is one of many and I find the suicides of those prescribed SSRIs for non-psychiatric indications where there is no confounding by indication, particularly compelling. RCTs like TADS which found rates of suicidality of those on SSRIs to be double that of matched controls also provide pretty robust evidence.

      Would be interested to hear what your rejection of this evidence is based on.

      • It’s simply based on the truth that no drug in existence can cause a decision to be made. A drug can impair decision making, sure.

        Unhappy people wind up being labeled ‘clinically depressed’ by psychiatry. Unhappy people take psychiatry’s drugs. Unhappy people kill themselves all the time. It is impossible to tease out. Being impaired by a drug may make one more impulsive, but nobody gets to blame it on the drug. Being drunk may make someone more likely to impulsively punch someone in the face, they still are held responsible in a court of law for the assault.

        Unhappy people are more likely to take psychiatric drugs. Unhappy people are more likely to suicide.

        Angry people are more likely to be violent drunks. Violent drunks are more likely to have alcohol in their systems when they punch someone in the face.

        We don’t need to take this common sense obvious fact, and go and do studies about alcohol and violence, and talk about the methodology of those studies, to tell us people who punch people in the face on alcohol deserve to get off scott free in court.

        If I kill myself, or punch someone in the face, on cocaine, alcohol, psychiatric drugs, in the end, I made the decision, even if I was impaired by the drug somewhat.

    • re “Anonymous” Drugs like alcohol are quickly metabolized. Psychiatric drugs have half lives in the human body-brain. Alcohol is not continually taken on a Doctors orders, a person can stop drinking at any time (if they are not alcoholic).
      It is not “to make any decision” it is to make the wrong decisions impulsively due to chemicals in ones brain.

      • Sure, all drugs, psychiatric or illicit, can impair reasoning. This is why there are laws against driving cars while intoxicated on drugs.

        The notion that there exists a drug, a molecule, to turn someone into a killer, or self killer, is ridiculous. Don’t you think the army would be giving it to all the soldiers?

        At best, drugs can only be a contributing factor to impairment in any decision. The decision of the Beatles to write good songs on drugs, or the unapproved of decisions, such as suicide. The lesson is to say no to drugs that impair your reasoning.

        • Assuming you’re aware that they can impair your reasoning and the extent of the impairment..right? That’s exactly Maria and other’s point. We don’t know these things nor are many people told of the risks, how could they be as these drugs affect different people differently. If someone slips a ruffie in your drink tonight at the bar and you don’t notice…I hope you blame yourself for going to that bar when you wake up the next morning with no recollection of the previous 8 hours. Just be consistent and, as always, anonymous.

        • The Army gives a lot of US soldiers SSRI’s. That is why a lot of them commit suicide, even if they haven’t been deployed. Do the Prozac pills actually pick up the gun and pull the trigger? No, but they do put you in a SEVERALY altered state of mind. These things mess you up. Why is this so hard to grasp?

    • Healthy? why is a decision you don’t like, suicide, automatically a ‘health’ problem?

      So some ‘healthy’ people on SSRIs took the decision to end their own life, while on a brain function impairing drug, I fail to see how that disproves my point. Some of those people probably went out and bought new cars too, you don’t blame their purchasing decisions on the drug, do you?

      It is obvious to me you’re very attached to this drug blaming theory, and even more obvious that you pick and choose which behaviors and decisions to blame on the drug.

      I’ve said the could impair someone’s decisions, and that when taking mind altering drugs of any kind, people can become more impulsive. I think this is as far as anyone can logically take this situation, going beyond that just stretches credulity.

      I don’t sue the brewery when I get a DUI.

      • Anonymous,

        I don’t think you are aware of all the evidence of the dangers of SSRI antidepressants causing suicide and violence.

        You are accusing others of singling out certain behaviors like suicide only when you are doing the same thing.

        The point is that if enough people have a very out of character reaction that is common to those taking SSRI drugs that many medical people and/or family familiar with the drug and person have observed along with studies buried by drug companies showing this same indication, there is proof of a pattern. There is a ton of evidence that SSRI drugs do cause suicide, mania, violence and many other lethal effects.

        In this case it is considered “involuntary intoxication” because the patient took the toxic SSRI drug in good faith as the doctor ordered, had no knowledge or informed consent of the dangers of the drug, and it resulted in unexpected violent behavior against one’s self or others totally out of character or past behavior for the perpetrators on these toxic drugs or withdrawing from them. There have been tons of documented cases of this.

        Your example of alcohol isn’t a great analogy because given our long term knowlege of the effects of alcohol, a person is considered a criminal if he/she gets into a car after drinking well beyond the legal limit and kills somebody while driving drunk. So, in this case, you are right that the person was/is responsible for their crime because they should have known that drinking so much and driving posed a danger to all. There are laws against it for this reason and legal punishments for it.

        This is the difference between voluntary and involuntary intoxication.

        • Uh huh. Okay everybody, keep believing what you want to believe. In the history of depressed persons since SSRIs were invented, no depressed person has ever killed themselves because they wanted to die, it’s all because SSRIs mysteriously took control of them and turned them into robots.

          SSRIs made me write this, so don’t even bother getting angry, it’s not my fault. If I were on a jury in a case where someone tried to blame an SSRI for a murder, suicide, or a car purchase, I’d throw the case out.

          It’s not involuntary intoxication. You choose to take these drugs. Of course there is fraud, the whole of psychiatry is fraud.

          What do you honestly think is more responsible for a young person choosing to end their life?

          1. A drug. Any drug.

          or…

          2. Being lied to and told their depression is a brain disease and that they have about as much control over the outcome of this ‘brain disease’ as someone trying to hold their breath on purpose, that is, nothing but a biological phenomenon?

          I’d say indoctrinating kids so that they come to believe that they are completely in the hands of a fake disease is more likely to lead to desperate decisions based on the assumption there is no hope.

          Has Dr. Healy ever done a study on the outcomes of those taking SSRIs who believed they were passive victims of a disease, versus those who didn’t hold this hope and agency destroying belief?

          It’s not just a matter of comparing the ‘bodies’ taking these drugs. It is a matter of understanding what lies these peoples’ heads were filled with to make them feel like they were not in the driver’s seat of their own lives.

          Far, far more credible than a bunch of observational studies with tiny statistical correlations.

      • @ anonymous “The notion that there exists a drug, a molecule, to turn someone into a killer, or self killer, is ridiculous. Don’t you think the army would be giving it to all the soldiers?

        Are you aware that more soldiers have taken their own lives than have died in Iraq and Afghanistan? More Vietnam Era Veterans have killed themselves here at home than we lost in the jungles of Vietnam. Virtually every school shooting or family murder suicide is committed by a person on these drugs the common denominator for these disparate populations all having a marked increase in violence and suicide is the drugs…

        I am suspecting that you are anonymous and making this argument because you work for a drug company.
        But these drugs have been known to cause suicide since at least 1960. They know it is a metabolizing related to specific genetic trait that there is even a not inexpensive test for…The FDA and Drug companies prefer to let people kill themselves and others than be to become ethical and honest drug dealers…http://involuntarytransformation.blogspot.com/2012/04/madison-ruppert-interviews-dr-yolande.html

        The FDA has acted in collusion with the drug companies and refers to the buried data as ‘Trade Secrets.’ Children as young as six and seven have killed themselves as a result—-you are arguing WHAT exactly? That this is all okey dokey because they chose to take a drug prescribed by a professional?
        The FDA covered up Traci Johnson and several other suicides:
        http://involuntarytransformation.blogspot.com/2012/03/stating-depression-is-due-to-chemical.html

  2. “So some ‘healthy’ people on SSRIs took the decision to end their own life, while on a brain function impairing drug, I fail to see how that disproves my point. Some of those people probably went out and bought new cars too, you don’t blame their purchasing decisions on the drug, do you?”

    Straw-man argument.

    Take 100 or so healthy volunteers. Give half a placebo and half an SSRi.

    During study a higher percentage taking the SSRi have suicidal feelings, some actually complete suicide. Given these results you still feel the SSRi has nothing to do with their actions?

    Your analogies only serve to highlight your blinkered views on this matter. It appears that you don’t want to believe, am I right?

    Even the manufacturers of these types of drugs have had to admit that these drugs can induce suicide…yet you still don’t believe.

    What would convince you that SSRi’s can induce suicide?

  3. “It’s not involuntary intoxication. You choose to take these drugs. Of course there is fraud, the whole of psychiatry is fraud.”

    It may be voluntary but for many wouldn’t you agree it is uninformed? Voluntarily taking a pill that produces unexpected or unknown consequences is a factor no? You’re familiar with akathisia which we know a bit about:

    Suicide attempts associated with akathisia.
    Drake, Robert E.; Ehrlich, Joshua
    The American Journal of Psychiatry, Vol 142(4), Apr 1985, 499-501.

    I understand your point regarding pills and robots, I’m just not sure its as clear cut and simple as you’re arguing.

    • Yes, my son tried to kill himself because of medication induced akathisia-in his case olanzapine.He was literally racing around the house day and night, incapable of sleeping, for 36 hours. The doctors I rang for help didn’t believe me and did nothing to help. Next morning he tried to kill himself. Luckilly I found him in time.

  4. For what it is worth, I must say something. My daughter Cassandra Dawn Calhoun (Cassie Calhoun) died by suicide on the 8th of April, 4 weeks ago. Her disposition all of her life was happy, she was gifted, loved arts, music, literature and many other cultural things. Her life became busy as she juggled school, a full time and stressful management position among other things. Her Dad and I would had rathered she stayed home and let us help her with her burdens but she was always too independent for that. By her 20th birthday, the 24th of September, she shared with me (MOM) that she had been feeling depressed. She had become thinner so I took her out to purchase a few new pair of jeans for her birthday. I was concerned for her so when I got home after we both went our ways, I spoke to her dad about her condition. He felt as if he should talk to her so he called her the next day and tried to encourage her to seek counseling and how talking about things to professionals could help to find strategies for dealing with the stresses of life. He also reminded that (mom) takes an antidepressant, the Dr. may think you need something. So she followed the advice and the Dr. did in fact put her on Zoloft. In some ways Cassie seemed to be improved and in other ways it seemed a part of her was slipping away. Her ability to sketch or paint things which came so naturally and easy for her, started becoming a huge challenge. She was having insomnia and by February we believe she was probably started to feel like a zombie. Somehow, she maintained her life and even became engaged to her boy friend Eric who worked with her managing the hospital cafeteria. She had gone to the Dr. again who had upped her dosage of Zoloft just 3 weeks before she hung herself. On the Monday, 4 weeks ago, Cassie had gone to work, all seemed fine. No one at all detected anything was wrong. She was bubbly, joked with a few coworkers, helped people, cheered people up that morning. Eric thought all was fine but he knew she had been sick on Sunday was the stomach flu and so when she said she was going to take the rest of the morning and afternoon off to go home and rest, he thought it reasonable. He knew that things weren’t going so well with her as far as rest went and that she was struggling with her thoughts from time to time. He had tabs on her for an hour after she left work through back and forth texting. After receiving the last text from her, his boss received one saying where Eric could find the car. The boss knew Cassie for a long time as she and his daughter were close friends for about 5 years or so. He did not think the text was normal so he told Eric and handed over his keys to Eric and saying Go find Cassie. Eric went straight to the apartment where he found her phone but she was not there. Then he remembered the text said that the car would be where they liked to spend time together… it was about 20-25 min. drive away. Eric got there, walked down a trail to get to her but it was too late. He will live with the feeling that he failed and we will live without our precious daughter for the rest of our lives. I know she was depressed before she went on the drugs but I wish we had discouraged these drugs altogether. I know it’s hind sight, and I know that nobody forced her to take these drugs. But still, these kids are at the mercy of the Dr.s and they trust that the Dr. knows what they’re doing. Changes come on so gradually in at a time when the person hangs on to every shred of hope and then it does not come. Cassie was saying she felt numb over the week before she did this. The drugs I believe do that to a person. We are still in shock and we still are a loss as to how to get moving again but the first thing I’d tell a parent is to avoid the drugs and take your chances without them… find alternatives, no drug.

    • Hello Tammy

      I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter. My heart goes out to you and your loved ones.

      I write a lot and have found there are in fact many lawsuits being filed in the U.S at the moment in regards to the drug companies fraudulently misleading the public and Doctors about the effectiveness and side effects of SSRI drugs.

      These side effects include suicidal thoughts and actions.
      The manufacturers of ZOLOFT also have lawsuits against them for the above.

      Due to this fraud having been proved some cases have been won already.

      I haven’t found any legal firms in NZ that are helping people with this or even if the proof of the fraud is widely known here.

      How ever if you do decide to try for compensation for what has happened, there are many legal firm, support groups and doctors, psychiatrists in the U.S that speak out about the effects and may be able to put you onto some one here – Re the link below

      More here http://www.zipzap-get-rid-of-the-crap.com/chilling-life-changes-with-anti-depressants.html

      My heart & thoughts are with you

      Wendy

  5. Just a note to say that there are many lawsuits currently going on in the U.S in regards to SSRI drugs causing one to commit suicide, murder, self harm etc. As well as birth defects in babies of mothers who were taking these drugs when getting pregnant and while pregnant.

    Some of these cases have been successfully won as it has been proven that many of the manufacturers of these drugs fraudulently mislead the public and health care professionals about the effectiveness of and side effects of these drugs.

    Included in these cases is proof that many of the shooters of the mass killings we hear about in the US, were in fact under the influence of these psychiatric drugs.

    So far I haven’t found any mass lawsuits here for victims of this – but feel that those effected by these drugs here in NZ may have a better chance in a group effort (if it hasn’t been done already) due to these new proofs coming to light from the American legal firms.

    More information on these proofs and doctors and Psychiatrists that speak out about the harm these drugs create…

    http://www.zipzap-get-rid-of-the-crap.com/chilling-life-changes-with-anti-depressants.html

    My heart goes out to all those effected by these horrific drugs.

    Wendy