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Council looks to establish task force to address problem

By Rachel Reeves

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Jan. 31, 2012) – The youth of the Cook Islands consider suicide an urgent concern, and are taking steps to address it in whatever way they can.

Cook Islands National Youth Council (CINYC) president Nukutau Pokura says council members started discussing suicide as a priority before Christmas, but in light of recent tragedies have shifted it to the top of their list.

[PIR editor’s note: Prime Minister Henry Puna stated that he is "heartbroken" after 2 teenagers recently committed suicide and seeks ways to ensure that troubled youth have someone to turn to for help. The Cook Islands News reported that 5 young people on Rarotonga have taken their own lives in the past 6 months.]

Pokura says the council has a view to establishing a suicide support group, but first wants to set up a task force to deal specifically with the issue of suicide.

She envisions recruiting trained professionals and people with a grasp of suicide and what drives it to sit on the task force.

"We were talking about setting up a support group even before the holidays we decided to come back after the holidays and look at what we can do," she said.

"But then we had these young people take their lives (recently) and it became even more urgent. In a sense we weren’t working fast enough."

For Pokura, it is vital that the Cook Islands establish some sort of awareness programme, an ongoing initiative that’s sustainable rather than reactive.

Pokura says suicide is an issue which affects all generations and levels of society, and reminds the Cook Islands that the youth council needs the support of the wider community.

"I feel personally that even though the age group doing this is young people this has got to be a whole community response," she said.

"...There are root causes of suicide we need to delve into. We can’t change peoples behaviours and choices overnight but by pulling everybody together by taking a coordinated approach we can establish a sustainable programme."

She says all sectors of society educators, church leaders and parents in particular need to play their part.

Pokura has spoken with some of the New Zealand High Commission staff, who suggested linking youth council members here with operators of a New Zealand youth helpline.

"It’s those kinds of services were interested in if we are able to support the coordination of that by all means we will. We are under-resourced but we will do what we can."

Pokura plans to meet with Prime Minister Henry Puna to discuss the pressing issue of suicide. After having a discussion with him she intends to call a meeting of all Cook Islands youth not just CINYC and its members.

To that meeting she intends to also invite parents and adults who are concerned about youth and want desperately to conquer the issue of suicide.

"We can always look at the youth aspect of it but it’s a holistic thing. Parenting, religion, support services like mental health and counselling all those angles need to be addressed," Pokura said.

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