Suicide numbers stay steady in Christchurch
ANDREW BEACH AND JESS MCALLEN
The number of suicides in Christchurch city have remained steady, with 69 recorded in the last year.
That number is one up from 2012/13. Prior to the February 2011 earthquake, the Christchurch suicide rate ranged between 69 and 90 a year since 2007.
Overall the number of New Zealanders who committed suicide last year fell slightly to 529, but the figure remains "stubbornly high and disappointingly consistent", Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean said today.
MacLean today released the provisional annual suicide figures for the year ending 30 June 2014, with the total of 529 being the lowest - by two - since annual coronial figures were first produced for the 2007/08 year.
The Canterbury District Health Board region had the highest number of suicides at 68. (The health board statistics differ slightly from those collected by the police which recorded 69 in Christchurch.)
It was followed by Waitemata's District Health Board region with 52, Counties Manukau's 48 and Waikato's 44.
While mental health professionals have been on the lookout for increased suicides in Christchurch following the earthquakes, statistics have proven the opposite.
''The suicide rate plummeted in Christchurch and therefore Canterbury in the period immediately after the earthquake and has kind of stayed down ever since,'' MacLean said.
Experts thought despair and disillusionment would kick in and that the heroic aftermath of everybody pulling together and pitching in that provided some therapeutic relief would fade in time.
''People will say depression counselling is going through the roof. Well, are they doing it right? Is that one of the reasons the suicide rate in that area hasn't increased - because we're really putting in huge efforts for counselling and support?
''Overall with the results, there are some encouraging signs. But it depends in which age bracket you look at and what gender bracket you look it. The news is hopeful. At least the trend is downwards, not upwards.''
OVERALL RATE STILL 'STUBBORNLY HIGH'
Nationally, there were 12 fewer suicides compared to the previous year, and 29 fewer than the 2010/11 year, which was the highest annual number recorded in the last seven years.
The previous lowest total was recorded for 2008/09 with 531 suicide deaths.
MacLean today said that while it was encouraging to see a slight drop in numbers, "the overall rate is still stubbornly high and disappointingly consistent".
"This year's numbers have moved in the right direction but not by much."
He said one positive aspect was that youth suicide numbers (those aged under 24 years) were significantly down from last year with 110 suicides compared with 144. "We've also seen the lowest number of suicides in the 15 to 19-year-old cohort in the last seven years with 46, which is down 17 on last year and 34 the year before.
"The drop in teen suicide is good news. These are the some of the toughest and most tragic cases coroners deal with," MacLean said.
A trend of increasing suicides among older people continued, with the number of suicides recorded in over-60 year olds up from 75 in 2012-13 to 97 in 2013-14.
"The rise in older people taking their own lives is something I highlighted last year, and this trend has continued, particularly for the above-80-year-old age cohort."
Other findings from the 2013-14 statistics include:
- The lowest number of suicides among 35- to 39-year-olds since records began in 2007, with 35 suicides (the annual average over the past seven years is 47).
- Maori suicide remained steady with 108 recorded in the last year compared with 105 in 2012/13. This comes after a sharp increase in 2011/12 when 132 Maori suicides were recorded. About one in every five people who commit suicide is Maori.
The region with the largest rate of increase is the Mid Central District Health Board, where suicide rates more than doubled, from 18 last year to 41.
The statistics do not include a breakdown by coronial region as coroners are increasingly investigating cases from outside their geographical areas.
Instead, regional figures based on district health board areas are used for the first time. These figures have been backdated to 2007/09 and record the area where the suicidal act happened.
SUICIDES BY DHB REGION
Bay of Plenty: 27
Canterbury 68 (NB: Christchurch police recorded 69)
Capital and Coast: 30
Counties Manukau: 48
Hawke's Bay: 28
Nelson Marlborough: 13
South Canterbury: 2
West Coast: 8
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