Youth Suicide, Subjective Well-Being and the Role of Place in New Zealand
One of the major shifts in our social structure over the last 50 years has been a switch in the relative well-being positions of young and old. This is reflected in their suicide rates where, in contrast to the gradual decline in the propensity of older populations to take their own lives, that of the young has risen dramatically. Not confined to New Zealand, this ‘generational switch’ raises important questions about the changing relative distribution of incentives and rewards for living across the age domain. The purpose of my thesis is to document this change and explore its implications. I do so by analysing the current distribution of subjective well-being across contemporary age groups including differences between men and women and Māori and non-Māori. Of particular interest is the link between suicide, subjective well-being and social capital – the levels of social connectedness that prevail in the lives of the young adults relative to their parents’ generation. As a geographer I’m particularly concerned with the role of local capital (community connectedness and trust) in nurturing well-being, and hence the variation that well-being exhibits across places within a country. While thoroughly investigated between nations, relatively few studies document geographical variations in subjective well-being within countries, particularly in terms of how these statistics differ by age. I find that not only does dissatisfaction with life (unhappiness and other measures of subjective well-being) rise as teenagers approach adulthood, but that it peaks in the 30s and declines slowly thereafter in a pattern reflective of the prevailing pattern of suicide. Moreover I find that, in addition to partnership, income, employment status and housing tenure, satisfaction with life among young adults in particular also varies across local communities, and cities. As such, the young exhibit a heightened sensitivity to place in ways that raise important questions about the nature of communities in which children are raised. It is this new information which I bring to a discussion of current initiatives dealing with mental health and the prevailing strategies advocated in New Zealand.