Break The Silence
2018 Finalist

Break The Silence


Auckland, New Zealand

Category Public Relations and Community Service

Overview of this campaign

New Zealand has the highest teen suicide rate in the developed world.

It adopted a silence-on-suicide policy in the mid-1990s after conservative academics convinced officials that stopping the media and schools talking about it would reduce the rising number of teen deaths. The rate has remained largely unchanged.

We wanted to challenge that thinking. We wanted to start a national conversation. We wanted to Break The Silence.

We set out to give people facts so they could make their own mind up. We didn't profess to be experts, but we spoke to scores of people who are. We sought input from mental health organisations to ensure our coverage was responsible and measured.

We sought those who had attempted suicide or self-harmed. We spoke to their families. And to the families of those who died.

Over six weeks, the NZ Herald published more than 60 stories under the Break The Silence banner, including five major investigations. That work was amplified by multiple radio brands owned by parent company NZME.

Key findings included that:

* New Zealand's biggest youth suicide cluster was kept secret by top levels of government, even though 19 people from one small community died and more than 150 others were put on a suicide watch register.

* Principals at more than half of secondary schools felt they weren't given enough support to handle suicidal behaviour among students.

* Almost 2000 children with serious issues were turned down for specialist help in 2016 because of a mental health funding shortage.

Our findings led our websites and papers on an almost daily basis during that period. But did they change anything?

Results for this campaign

We ignited a national conversation that generated international media attention.

Policies were changed, funding shifted, urgent reports released and youth suicide became a significant topic in the 2017 election.

In the wake of our first investigation, the Government announced its Budget, which earmarked a $224 million boost for mental health, would include at least $124 million for new initiatives. It also announced that one programme we featured as a possible solution would receive $1.5 million.

After our second investigation, the Ministry of Education vowed to review official guidelines on how schools handle student suicides. It also updated online advice, which included broken links and outdated information. The Education Minister promised to change outdated policies.

After our third investigation, the Government released, for the first time, a report on suicide by the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor. The same day, the Health Minister announced more funding for the Suicide Mortality Review Committee.

Most importantly, hundreds of readers reached out about their personal battles. Some wanted help. If so, we told them where they could get it. Some said our coverage was help enough.

One reader described it as "the most important work undertaken by New Zealand journalists in a generation". Another, who had already attempted suicide, said it prompted him to seek help: "I wanted to thank you NZ Herald. You gave my life back and you can pat yourselves on the back as you've saved a life. I would have succeeded in silence at some point, now I'm a new me."

One life saved would have made the campaign a success. We did so much more. We broke the silence.

As this entry was being completed, the new Government announced a ministerial inquiry into mental health and addiction services.


To contact a company representative about this campaign, click here for the INMA Member Directory

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