Aroha McKenzie’s home has become “a bit of a shrine” over the past two years.
A photo of her daughter, Jacinta Purewa, grins from beneath the television – proudly displaying her blue Taita College uniform.
Up against a wall, a photomontage in the shape of a heart sits on a white background, with the words “shine bright like a diamond” along the bottom. Eventually, there will be a whole wall for her, McKenzie says.
It has been 26 months since a cleaner found Jacinta’s body at a Hutt Valley primary school.
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The bright, sporty, hopeful and healthy girl was 17.
“I could never, ever, ever be angry with her,” McKenzie says.
“I just feel so sad that, in that moment, she couldn’t think – she couldn’t take five minutes to find a way through that black hole.”
McKenzie wanted to talk about her daughter’s suicide amid controversy over the current Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, which tells the fictional story of a United States high schooler who kills herself and leaves 13 cassette tapes to friends dealing with the shock.
McKenzie believes suicide should be in the spotlight, but she has enormous concerns about the graphic nature of the show.
She hasn’t seen the series, and won’t allow her 13-year-old daughter, Brooke, to see it either.
But she’s aware of the contents, which include a rape scene and graphic details of teen suicide. She’s concerned Brooke was sent a photo of how the show’s pivotal character, Hannah, chose to take her life.
“Suicide is very real. Because we live it daily, we don’t need it thrown at us like that. That, potentially, could have tipped Brooke over the edge.”
The New Zealand Classification Office (NZCO) has created a new RP18 rating for the show, meaning someone under 18 must view the series with the supervision of a parent or guardian.
McKenzie believes if Jacinta had taken a moment to process what was going on, she would still be alive.
Mental Health Foundation chief Shaun Robinson feels fortunate to have had that moment. As a teenager, he tried to commit suicide. But he chose a method he did not really know how to carry out, and survived. He recovered with the support of his loved ones.
He wonders whether, if he had watched 13 Reasons Why back then, he would have copied the suicide method Hannah chose, and died.
“I’m really concerned about the ones that don’t have a good friend, or good teacher or a parent, and can talk to them about these things.”
Research had shown spikes in real-life use of particular suicide methods after widely viewed television shows depicted them, Robinson said.
He, too, believed suicide should be talked about – but said content that could inspire or glorify suicide should be carefully vetted.
Shows such as 13 Reasons Why could be unhelpful in depicting an outpouring of attention after a teen’s suicide.
“Once you are dead you don’t get to see the funeral, the Facebook posts. You don’t get the experience of the aftermath of a suicide.”
McKenzie said Jacinta was not in the mental health system, and by all accounts was viewed as a happy and healthy teenager. She was openly gay and had gone through some teenage drama, but nothing that threw up any major warning signs.
McKenzie still hasn’t been able to read the coroner’s report into her daughter’s death, and Jacinta left no note.
She urged parents to “be really aware where our kids are at”.
“We don’t need to hide the fact that bullying happens, or that you might have a mental illness, or that suicide is playing on your mind.
“I do think we tend to almost turn a blind eye to stuff we think is too hard. And suicide – let’s face it – is hard.”
WHERE TO GET HELP:
Lifeline (open 24/7) – 0800 543 354
Depression Helpline (open 24/7) – 0800 111 757
Healthline (open 24/7) – 0800 611 116
Samaritans (open 24/7) – 0800 726 666
Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO).
Youthline (open 24/7) – 0800 376 633. Text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
0800 WHATSUP children’s helpline – phone 0800 9428 787. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at whatsup.co.nz.
Kidsline (open 24/7) – 0800 543 754.
For further information, contact the Mental Health Foundation’s free Resource and Information Service (09 623 4812)