Suicide third most popular way to die before your time


Suicide rates in New Zealand have remained unacceptably high since declines in the 1990s, despite a decade-long prevention plan and strategy.

The figures are so high that suicide is the third highest cause of death after heart disease and lung cancer.

So what will stop New Zealanders taking their own lives at such appalling rates?

Provisional figures released by the Chief Coroner (PDF, 981KB) indicate 564 people took their own lives in the year 2014/2015, the highest number in the eight years that the figures have been released.

The most recent finalised statistics from the Ministry of Health show that in 2012, just over 3000 people were treated in hospital after a suicide attempt, having seriously harmed themselves. In 2011, New Zealand’s youth suicide rate was the second highest in the OECD.

Remarkable, when you place that against New Zealand’s other OECD ratings which are quite favourable in terms of health, education and literacy.? As well as informal rankings such as best place to live, best place to visit and nice people to be with.

While awareness of risk factors is increasing, and changes are being seen in some of the most vulnerable groups, the overall figures remain depressingly unchanged.

After a drop in rates in the late 1990s, the number of people who take their lives every year has remained at a relatively static level even though prevention programmes and strategies have been in place for more than a decade – and have an end date of this year.

And to call that just the background rate does not explain why it is so high when compared to other countries with similar economies, governments and societies.

If it has not gone down, it indicates that either we still don’t understand the root causes that are unique to New Zealand, or we have thus far failed to find answers.

New Zealand has done the “immediate and easy” to drive down the suicide rates, according to the Director of Mental Health, Dr Jon Crawshaw.

“We’re now getting into the heavy duty and tough stuff and looking at a much more systematic approach. Talking about suicide prevention without looking at the wider social and justice sector intervention programme becomes unhelpful,” he said.

The two main current policies, the Suicide Prevention Strategy? and the Suicide Prevention Action Plan, both come to an end this year. But timing for the new framework is still some time off, although elements of the two previous policies will continue, as will more recently introduced initiatives at district health boards.

It was better to get it right than to rush, Dr Crawshaw said.


– Philippa Tolley, RNZ