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Suicide toll reaches highest rate since records kept

A rise in suicides is "so hard to hear" says Stephen Bell of youth mental health service Youthline.
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A rise in suicides is "so hard to hear" says Stephen Bell of youth mental health service Youthline.

The provisional suicide toll has risen to its highest figure since the coroner's office started releasing the statistics.

From the year June 2014- May 2015, 569 people died by suicide or suspected suicide.

Last year (for the year ending 30 June 2014) that number was 529.

Mike King pictured talking about his Key to Life charity aimed at teaching high school students about how he beat depression.
Abby Brown

Mike King pictured talking about his Key to Life charity aimed at teaching high school students about how he beat depression.

The information from the Coroner was released to New Zealand First under parliamentary questions and is a worrying development say experts.

"It seems to have completely bucked the trend," says Stephen Bell of youth mental health service Youthline.

Last year's figures had been the lowest number by two since the annual coronial figures were first produced for the 2007/2008 year.

The figures provided a breakdown of suicides by region and month, with August proving the most deadly month (51 deaths) and Auckland the region with the most deaths (161).

However, anomalies were found such as Christchurch – which has a smaller population than Wellington but had more suicides (49 compared to 40) – and Hastings which had only two fewer suicides than the bigger Hamilton.

"It's so hard to hear," says Bell.

"I always hate the idea of trying to reduce suicide because if you say that, you are accepting there will be suicides. We've got to aspire that no one is in the state where they want to kill themselves."

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Suicide is the second highest way young people die in New Zealand he says.

Former comedian Mike King, who has openly talked about his own struggles with depression, reacted to the figures saying: "Those who work in this area knew the figures last year were an anomaly. Everyone was quick to jump on last year's figure because youth suicide had gone down but compared to the daily reports I get from communities I knew it was bad.

"Our approach to suicide prevention could be greatly improved if we spent more time educating ordinary New Zealanders on their attitudes. Their judgmental and off-the-cuff remarks in regards to attention-seeking and cowardly behaviour – these common cliches that are thrown around – the impact is that there are 569 New Zealanders who would rather die and leave their families behind, than openly talk about their problems and be judged by other people."

King said: "Its not the suicidal thoughts or depression that is killing New Zealanders it is going through that alone and seeing no hope. All the people in charge of the suicide industry who were busy two years ago telling me I was causing suicide contagion and shouldn't talk to the public  are now running around saying hey maybe now we should start talking. 

"The only way we are going to start getting on top of these appalling figures, for youth especially, is to stop giving the youth our answers to their problem, we have to empower them to identify the problem and come up with the solution," King said. 

The full Coroner's annual suicide report – which breaks down the deaths in more specific trends such as age and ethnicity – will  be released later this year.

The Chief Coroner, Deborah Marshall, was approached for comment but was unavailable.

Suicide by the years

2007/2008 - 540

2009/2010 - 558

2011/2012 - 547

2013/ 2014- 529

2014/2015 - 569

Where to get help:

The Mental Health Foundation's free Resource and Information Service (09 623 4812) will refer callers to some of the helplines below:

Lifeline - 0800 543 354 

Depression Helpline (8 am to 12 midnight) - 0800 111 757 

Healthline - 0800 611 116

Samaritans - 0800 726 666 

Suicide Crisis Helpline (aimed at those in distress, or those who are concerned about the wellbeing of someone else) - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) 

Youthline - 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz

 - Stuff.co.nz

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