Suicide toll surpasses road deaths

01:43, Jan 31 2009

More people took their own lives than died in road crashes in the past year, new coroners' figures show.

In the year to the end of June, 511 suicides were reported to coroners - 1.4 self-inflicted deaths a day.

Suicides accounted for more than one-in-three coroners' cases, though a suicide prevention agency says numbers have fallen dramatically in the past decade.

The preliminary figures are revealed in coroners' files on nearly 1500 "violent and unnatural" deaths since a new coronial system was introduced last year. Till now there has been a two-year lag on official suicide statistics.

In the same 12 month period, 87 fewer vehicle accident deaths were referred for coroners' investigations than suicides. Drowning was the next biggest type of death, with 101 cases, followed by head injury (66), homicide (64) and sudden infant death syndrome (50).

Chief coroner Judge Neil MacLean said the new figures provided interesting comparisons. Raw data about suicides was "rather shocking".

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"Suicide is actually more common than I think is widely appreciated and it's only when a family is directly affected by it that they actually realise the awful extent of it. All I see is the end result. No matter how often you see it, you still ask yourself the question: `How could that be the catalyst for someone to take their own life?"'

Suicides were often a combination of factors such as depression, drugs or relationship breakups.

"But you look at it individually and say: `Surely that's not enough to warrant the most drastic step'."

The aftermath was traumatic for families, who often blamed themselves or felt ashamed, Judge MacLean said.

He suspected vehicle accident deaths had outnumbered suicides in previous years, but more people were now surviving crashes.

"The survivability of serious motor vehicle crashes is getting better all the time, and I suspect that airbags and seatbelts alone have made a huge difference." However, crash death figures potentially included "autocides" - where drivers took their own lives - which were notoriously hard to identify, he said.

There were 422 road deaths last year. Suicide Prevention Information NZ director Merryn Statham said suicide numbers had fallen 19 per cent since 1997 but outnumbered road deaths for several years.

New Zealand had high teenage suicide rates when compared internationally, but 80 per cent of Kiwis who took their own lives were over 24.

 

The Dominion Post