Lonely and infirm opt for death as way out
KELSEY FLETCHER AND JIMMY ELLINGHAM
Loneliness and isolation could be the leading factors in the high suicide rate for elderly men, according to Age Concern Horowhenua.
The annual suicide figures, made public by chief coroner Judge Neil MacLean yesterday, showed men aged 85 years and older are killing themselves at a higher rate than any other age group.
Nine men and three women over 85 years took their own lives in the year to June.
Age Concern Horowhenua manager Anna Auty said isolation was "a huge issue for older people, particularly in the Horowhenua area where there is no public transport".
"We've got a very high proportion of older people here and a lot of people choose to come here to retire.
"It's fine when you've got your health but when you get ill and if your partner dies, life changes enormously."
Ms Auty said older people did not want to be a nuisance and would "bottle it up".
Judge MacLean said there needed to be more research into suicide among elderly people and the line between euthanasia and suicide.
There were 47 self-inflicted deaths across all age groups in the Palmerston North coronial region, and a total of 541 suicides across the country.
There were six fewer suicides than last year.
Judge MacLean said the annual suicide total had been stubbornly consistent since records began in July 2007, with between 531 and 558 suicides a year.
"Sadly this year is no different and it is frustrating that we cannot seem to make inroads into our unacceptably high suicide rate," he said. "In spite of this, there have been some positive trends observed in the year.
"Maori suicide has dropped for the first time since records began, and the number of pre-teen and teen suicides is down from last year."
The number of Maori who killed themselves in the year to June dropped to 105 after spiking to 132 the previous year.
MidCentral Health Mental Health Services clinical director Jerry Varghese said it could be that intervention methods were working.
"We can't say with certainty what the exact reasons are for the decrease - one would hope the various interventions put in place for Maori health in general could potentially have had a positive impact," he said. "If I was to look at my list, the one thing that stands out for me is the bulk are male, but also Caucasian."
The highest number of suicides in the 20-year-old to 24-year-old age cohort since records began, with 75 suicides.
The lowest number of suicides in the 30-year-old to 34-year-old age cohort since records began, with 31 suicides.
The drop in Maori suicide was largely accounted for by a decrease in male Maori suicide, in particular young male Maori suicide.
In 2011-12 there were 94 male Maori suicides, while in 2012-13 there were 72.
THE PRICE OF SUICIDE
As the latest suicide statistics are released, one man affected by the self-inflicted death of a loved one welcomes the spotlight shining on the issue.
In 2011, Palmerston North man Paul Billington, who had been diagnosed with depression, committed suicide. He was 27 and left behind a 2-year-old son.
Now, his father, Graeme, has affixed phone numbers and websites of organisations that offer help, such as depression.org.nz, on to his motorbikes.
Mr Billington, who raced at Manfeild last weekend, originally had a picture of his son on the bikes. He took those off last year and was going to remove the numbers, too.
"I mentioned that I was going to pull all the stickers off and a number of people said, 'no, don't do that, because a lot of people are noticing it'," he said.
"Some people have come up to me who had family members suffering depression and bipolar."
The Mt Maunganui man said he was trying to create awareness for people to recognise the signs of depression in others, as those affected by it might not take heed of the help available.
Any publicity about the issue was a "good thing".
Mr Billington said more people killed themselves than died on the nation's roads, yet suicides were not talked about as much as fatal crashes.
During the past few years, coroners have relaxed restrictions on reporting their findings into self-inflicted deaths.
This trend began in early 2011 when Palmerston North coroner Tim Scott released findings into the 2009 suicide of Foxton student Ian David Hopkins.
Mr Hopkins had sought medical help, but was not assessed as being at "high risk".
Mr Scott said he was expressly allowing publication of the circumstances of Mr Hopkins' death.
"It is my belief that many families regard publication of deaths by suicide to be some sort of punishment or some sort of public shaming. They should not think like this," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Do you agree with increased oil exploration?