Palmerston North high in suicide numbers

More people are killing themselves in Palmerston North than Wellington, Dunedin or Hamilton, with an average of more than one suicide per week in the city.

Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean yesterday released the latest provisional national suicide statistics drawn from information collected by the Ministry of Justice's database.

In the year to June 30, 53 suicides were recorded in the Palmerston North coronial region – one more than Wellington which recorded 52.

Dunedin and Hamilton had 45 and 49 deaths, respectively.

Auckland, Christchurch and Rotorua – which has a population of just 56,000 compared to Palmerston North's 81,000 – recorded the three highest figures.

Last year Palmerston North recorded 54 suicide deaths, and 53 deaths in both 2009 and 2008.

Nationwide, there were 558 suicides in the past year, up on 541 for the year before. Of those, 419 were men and 139 were women. By comparison, 375 people were killed on New Zealand roads last year.

Judge Maclean said the figures were disappointing.

"These statistics clearly show that what we have done in the past is not bringing the toll down, so we must look for new solutions."

He said the suicide toll was a "concerning commentary" on society, "and I believe anything we can do to aid more accurate information can only be for the better".

Children between the ages of 10 and 14 accounted for eight deaths, and 56 suicides were committed by people aged 15-19.

Information on the methods of death was also released.

Death by hanging, strangulation and suffocation was still the most common method, accounting for 306 deaths, while deaths using firearms and explosives decreased. Poisoning by overdose, and poisoning by gases and vapours accounted for 96 and 61 deaths respectively.

Last year was the first time such detailed information had ever been publicly released.

Judge MacLean said although coroners were not experts in suicide prevention, the coronial system had a legal responsibility and a "pivotal role" to play in stimulating discussion that could help explain and prevent some suicides.

"I have suggested that there may be room for a gentle opening up of the restrictions on media reporting of suicide, but we need to consider all viewpoints – especially those of families – so we can make informed decisions."

The Mental Health Commission last week released figures showing New Zealand females aged 15-24 have the highest suicide rate in the OECD.

The 2011 National Indicators report looked at both suicide rates and New Zealanders' outlook on life to find trends in Kiwis' mental health.

Chair Commissioner Lynne Lane said that report showed mixed results: "When you look at the information on life satisfaction compared with other countries, we are doing pretty well. And when you look at suicide rates they are trending down, however we still have the highest rates in the OECD for young women and that's a huge concern."

New Zealand's overall rate was lower than in the mid-1980s. 

Manawatu Standard