Attempted suicides highest in Canterbury, twice as much as Auckland

Canterbury police responded to more than 2800 attempted suicides last year, up significantly on previous years and well above other regions.

Statistics obtained by Stuff mirror mounting concerns about the region's mental health after a signifincant increase in attempted suicides since the quakes.

"Calls for service" relating to attempted suicide, released under the Official Information Act, show police responded to 2877 incidents in Canterbury in 2015.

While the numbers had stayed relatively stable, or increased slightly, in the majority of other centres, Christchurch had shown a different story.

After an initial drop to 1789 in 2011, Canterbury's total had grown year on year by between 200 and 400 calls. 

However, statistics for actual suicide deaths in Canterbury since 2011 have remained relatively stable and in line with previous levels, with between about 70-90 deaths each year.

Canterbury police district commander Superintendent John Price said while many people were not following through with suicide, it seemed people had "got to a stage in their lives where they're saying 'Please come and help'."

"We've got to take some notes that the community is still hurting after the earthquakes and people are still crying out for help," Price said.

At 491 per 100,000, Canterbury was now almost double the totals for Waitemata and Counties/Manukau, who have similar populations.

Wellington came in second, at 451 per 100,000.

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Across New Zealand, 16,806 calls were taken relating to attempted suicide in 2015.

Canterbury was one of three policing districts that had psychiatric nurses permanently in their watchhouses, which helped alleviate pressure on police, Price said.

About 20 per cent of people in custody had mental health-related issues, he said.

Police now had further training in mental health and prevention, but the totals show "a lot of time and resource police are spending in that space".

"The figures are very concerning because it paints a picture for the need for people to be cared for in our community. The raw numbers speak for themselves.

"The flipside is that I think it's great that people are calling us and telling us."

Calls included other people notifying police of their concerns for someone else, people threatening suicide, and actual suicide attempts. The statistics captured repeat calls from the same individual, and multiple calls for the same event.

Mental Health Advocacy and peer Support (MHAPS) general manager Sue Ricketts said earthquake stressors had increased "to the extent that some people have nowhere else to escape their despair except by suicide". 

Homelessness continued to be a "hidden nightmare", she said.

"Only last weekend, one of our members woke up in the shed, which he shared with others, to find one of the number had  [killed]  himself overnight," Ricketts said.

MHAPS peer support service team manager Vito Nonumalo said rural Canterbury contributed to the region's high suicide rate, due to isolation and a lack of social connection.

Others were everyday people who had "run their resilience thin and feel they have nothing left to hold on to", and those who did not necessarily see themselves as unwell. Many often blamed themselves for their situations.

"Some of it won't necessarily be the earthquakes but the length of time people are having to live through the post-quake mess," Nonumalo said.

"Resilience isn't a wall, resilience is more like butter and the longer the period you have to stretch it over, the more you have to spread it and the thinner it gets. Sooner or later, everyone runs out of butter."

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

 - Stuff

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