Aftershocks linked to suicide spike

GEORGINA STYLIANOU
Last updated 16:00 03/09/2012
neil maclean
ROBYN EDIE/ Fairfax NZ
CHIEF CORONER: Neil MacLean

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Christchurch Earthquake 2011

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The December 23 aftershocks may have contributed to a ''significant spike'' in suicides in January this year, the chief coroner says.

There were 81 suicides in Canterbury in the year ending June 30, up from 67 for the 2010-11 year.

Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean today released annual suicide statistics that showed an increase in suicides in Canterbury and deaths among youth, Maori and Pacific Islanders nationwide.

In total there were 547 suicides, including one boy aged between 5 and 9, 11 children aged between 10 and 14 and 80 people aged 15 to 19.

The number of suicides dealt with by West Coast, Marlborough and Canterbury coroners rose from 89 to 117.

Judge MacLean said it would be ''very interesting'' to see whether earthquake-hit people who moved to other parts of the country had ''affected the numbers in any way''.

Suicide numbers in Canterbury dropped after the September 2010 quake, and February 2011 had only one suicide, the lowest monthy total since 2007.

Since the February quake, rates have been rising, hitting a peak in January this year with 14 suicides, compared with six the year before.

The chief coroner said the peak in January was ''quite unusual'' and could have been linked to the two large aftershocks of December 23, 2011.

''You could pore over the Canterbury figures, but it's impossible to know why some months are up and some months are down,'' he said.

''We don't know what's going to happen, but we did see a drop after the earthquake, and then it slowly crept back up and there was a significant spike in January this year.''

Canterbury District Health Board member Andrew Dickerson said the statistics echoed what he had been hearing since the quakes.

''I've anecdotally heard of a number of suicides in the community, at least some of which were directly or indirectly earthquake-related.''

Dickerson said he had been aware of the January spike and said for many Christchurch residents the December aftershocks ''were the last straw''.

''I've been very concerned about people's wellbeing for some time with ongoing uncertainty, and I'm worried about how all the stress and anxiety is going to impact on things in the coming year or two,'' he said.

Judge MacLean said the increase in Canterbury suicides had ''somewhat been expected'' but the increase in youth and Maori deaths was ''a real concern''.

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He said young people were growing up faster and having to deal with more stress and ''increased exposure'' to things like bullying.

He said the suicide of the boy aged between 5 and 9 was ''incredibly unusual''.

The last time someone that young took their own life was in 1991, he said.

The chief coroner's office would not say where the boy was from.

Suicide statistics for the 2011-12 year

- 547 suicides.
- 405 men.
-142 females.
- The Maori suicide rate went from 17.87 per 100,000 to 23.24.
- The suicide rate is highest among people aged 15 to 19.
- There were 11 fewer suicides than in the 2010-11 year.
- Since 2007 there have been 2717 suicides in New Zealand.

- The Press

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