Why Are Pacific Youth More At Risk Of Suicide Than Any Other Group Around The World?

Imagine the game of rugby without the Pacific Islanders? You simply can’t, these athletic giants of the game are ingrained into the very fabric of our macho sport and have brought us, their adoring spectators, so many moments of pure unadulterated rugby porn over the years that it’s impossible to imagine our sport without them.

It’s as though they were purposely moulded to play god’s greatest gift to sport, naturally big, strong, brave and a macho culture which is second to none, yet there is an unquestionable vulnerability to mental health disorders, particularly in their youths which suggests they are not rugby gods, simply men and women just like the rest of us mere mortals.

For some years now suicide rates in Pacific Islands have been amongst some of the highest in the world reaching up to 30 per 100,000 in countries such as Samoa, Guam and Micronesia, doubling the global average, As if that were not alarming enough, a recent study of Pacific suicide deaths over a 17-year period found boys aged between 12 and 18 were three times more likely to attempt suicide than European youths.

Jemaima Tiatia-Seath of The University of Auckland published the study in April 2017 which looked at the suicide deaths of Pacific people over a 17-year period found that:

  • From January 1996 to December 2013, 380 Pacific Islanders died by suicide, averaging 22 deaths per year.
  • Across all Pacific ethnic groups surveyed – Samoan, Cook Islands, Tongan and ‘other Pacific’ – more men took their lives than women.
  • Pacific suicides increased with deprivation. However, Pacific suicides were about double those of all other New Zealanders in the worst deprivation bracket.
  • Across Pacific ethnic groups, suicides were most prevalent in people aged 15 to 24, followed by those aged 25 to 39, the study found.
  • Across all ethnicities in New Zealand, suicides were most prevalent in the 40-plus age group.

The study begs the question? Why are Pacific Islanders, and particularly the youth in this part of the world more at risk of suicide than any other group around the world?

It’s obviously a complex argument, encompassing a range of factors. For Samoans, for example, traditionally mental illness is sometimes seen as the result of a breach of a tapu relationship – even one committed by an ancestor, so the Stigma of admitting to a mental health disorder is a “double whammy” in their culture.

But perhaps the macho culture, so well suited to rugby, could also explain why Pacific people used both mental health and primary care services at lower rates than any other group around the world, and tended to use them often only when they were in crisis.

We’re never going to get to the bottom of the Why? question in this Blog post so perhaps we should focus more on what the rugby community can do to help, how we can give something back to our Pacific brothers who are so important to our game.

It’s common knowledge that the Pacific people have been migrating all over the world for generations to help provide for their families which brings with it cultural and isolation stresses, but in a recent LooseHeadz interview with legendary Samoan Lock, Dan Leo, Dan talked candidly about the pride that Pacific men feel when they are able to not only provide financially for their families but in some cases their whole communities by sending sometimes as much as 80% of their hard earned spoils back home.

But with that pride comes a significant amount of responsibility and with responsibility comes additional stress. It’s stressful enough for all of us to provide for ourselves and our families in the UK but if you’re a sportsman, then your body is your most important tool, so if you’ve got the weight of providing for a whole community on your shoulders, I’d argue that you’re more likely to take risks with your body and soldier on, at the obvious expense of your physical health but also potentially at the expense of your long term mental health.

So maybe the rugby community needs to be more aware and sympathetic of the demands on our favourite rugby imports. For instance, the Pacific Islands produce around 15% of the professional rugby playing talent in the world yet Samoa will receive just 1% of the gate receipts from the RFU when they take on England at Twickenham next week, and England are more generous than most!

Each England player will take home £22,000 simply for appearing in the game, yet their Samoan counterparts will pocket just £650, in most cases not even enough to cover the travel and accommodation fairs they will have to stump up themselves, let alone provide for their families and communities back home.

So in conclusion, there is clearly a complex mix of cultural and economical factors behind the high suicide rates in the Pacific Islands and no “one size fits all” approach to tackling those issues, but LooseHeadz believe that every member of the rugby community has a responsibility to tackle this issue if we want to continue enjoying those monstrous Samoan tackles, or a glorious Fijian offloads for many years to come.

We must therefore put pressure on our clubs and countries to begin distributing the vast amount of wealth in the game more evenly, start putting pressure on our national unions to share in the gate receipts, and if that doesn’t work then we must vote with our wallets and hit them where it really hurts.

In the meantime, here’s some local information specific to Pacific Islanders who might need help:



Lifeline: 0800 543 354

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What’s Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children’s helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

About the author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *