Provisional suicide statistics released today by the Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall show 668 people died by suicide in 2017/18, an increase on the previous year. The provisional rate is now up to 13.67 deaths by suicide per 100,000 people – the highest since 1998 when the confirmed rate peaked at 15.1 losses to suicide per 100,000 people.

The Mental Health Foundation said it was deeply saddened by the statistics released today with chief executive Shaun Robinson calling on people to reach out to others today who may be grieving or who they are worried about.

“As a nation we can turn this tragic situation around, if we listen to what is working, resource it and join the dots into a concerted plan of action,” said Robinson.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was a tragedy that so many New Zealanders took their lives in a single year and that it was critically important that people wherever they were in the country could access help when they need it. “We know we need to do more to make sure that happens.”

The Public Service Association, that represents many health professionals working in mental health and addictions, said the figures were disturbing and proved there was much to do, to prevent more tragic loss of life.

“The Inquiry (The Government’s Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction) must deliver a way forward to address this ongoing crisis – and the Government must listen and act quickly,” said PSA national secretary Erin Polaczuk.

Health Minister David Clark said he gave the Government’s Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction a ‘strong direction’ to examine current work on suicide prevention as well as a broad mandate to look at the drivers of mental health issues and the provision of mental health services.

“These are incredibly complex and difficult issues. No one should pretend there are easy answers – but I am confident the Inquiry will come back with robust and far-reaching recommendations when it reports at the end of October,” said Clark.

The independent Suicide Mortality Review Committee (SuMRC) has called on all sectors and communities to work better together to reduce suicide deaths in New Zealand. SuMRC chair Professor Rob Kydd said a report by the committee due out in December 2018 would include looking at the effectiveness of some suicide prevention programmes.

“The SuMRC is committed to more accurate and meaningful understanding and reporting so we can identify where interventions will be effective and sustainable,” said Professor Kydd. “We will investigate where and what things are working well and identify where there continue to be consistent gaps in prevention.”

“We are also confident the government inquiry into mental health and addiction, having heard from many individuals and whānau affected by suicide, will lead to better mental, emotional and physical outcomes for the people of New Zealand.”

Researcher Dr Chris Bowden, who has been working in the area of suicide prevention for two decades,  said the statistics were disappointing but nor surprising and if the country wanted to decrease suicide it needed to specifically target young men, Māori men, and working age men.

“I hope the latest provisional statistics and the Inquiry spurs the government to shift its focus and act more quickly on addressing this serious issue.”

Polaczuk said the stories that surfaced throughout the Inquiry proved the discussion on reducing suicide had been “deep, painful and long overdue”.

She said it knew that the people working within the system were doing their best amid challenging circumstances. “We need well-resourced mental health and services, particularly targeting at-risk groups like Maori men. But we also need social services in place that will enable people to seek help at an early stage – and that will address the socio-economic factors that contribute to suicidal behaviour.”
Robinson said in the 1990s New Zealanders made a unified effort to reduce suicide – and it had worked. He said there were many people doing great work to prevent suicide – like Lifekeepers – and were saving lives every day.  Robinson said leadership from Government, resources and an action plan arising from the Inquiry recommendations were needed urgently.
“Thousands of people have come through times of feeling suicidal and survived. We need to listen to what worked for them and why,” Mr Robinson says. “There’s no single solution – there are lots of things that will help, and all of us – government, community, businesses, whānau – everyone – need to work on this together.”

Where you can get help:

If you are worried about your or someone else’s mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.

If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:

DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234
1737 NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737

1 COMMENT

  1. Depression, of course, has always been with us. It is an integral part of being human – animals do not commit suicide (at least not for mental reasons). To aim for zero suicides is a vain and futile exercise. The phenomenon is known to run in families – so there must be some genetic background or “reason” for it. We differentiate between endogenous and reactive depressions for the simple reason that the latter is by definition caused by environment. For the illness to persist in mankind there must therefore be a strong selection for the gene-complex which “causes” endogenous depressions. Somehow it is important for our humanness.

    We regard the illness as a scourge on mankind – and yes, for us little individuals it certainly appears so. To me, though, it has always been a comfort to know that in the big scheme of things there must be positive aspects to it. I would be interested to see Health Central subscribers give their philosophical opinions about the possible benefits of endogenous depression. I could list some, I think (my own father suffered from it when I was 17 – my mother and I took turns to mind him for a couple of days because he was openly suicidal).

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