National suicide numbers rise three years in a row
The number of people taking their own lives in New Zealand is continuing to rise, with men and Maori featuring well above the national average.
Figures released on Monday by Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall show men are dying by suicide at a ratio of three men to one woman.
The provisional statistics found 606 Kiwis took their own life in the 2016-17 year, up from 579 the previous year and 564 the year before that.
It was the third year in a row the number has increased and the 2016-17 figure was the highest number of suicide deaths since the coroner's annual provisional suicide statistics were first recorded in 2007-08.
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The suicide rate per 100,000 people was 12.64, up from 12.33 the previous year, but similar to the number recorded in 2010-11 of 12.65.
Men and Maori were highly represented in the figures, both featuring suicide rates well above the national average.
Some 457 men committed suicide in 2016-17, a rate of 19.36 per 100,000, up from 409 and 17.71 per 100,000 the previous year.
The number of Maori who died by suicide in 2016-17 was 130 and 21.73 per 100,000. The number has been sitting at this level since 2014-15.
The 20-24 year-old age group recorded the highest number of suicide deaths at 79, including 61 men.
Canterbury recorded the highest number of suicides out of any other district health board in the country, with 79 deaths – one higher than the previous year.
The next closest was Waitemata and Southern on 52 each. The Canterbury region is the second largest in the country, behind Waitemata.
Based on population, Canterbury's rate was significantly higher than the national average (12.64), at 14.52 deaths per 100,000 people.
Mental health advocate and comedian Mike King called for everyone involved in the suicide prevention industry in New Zealand to be fired, because they were failing to do their job.
"They are so out of touch, they should be fired, every single one of them … They are failing to do their job."
King resigned from the Government-led suicide prevention panel earlier this year, calling the suicide prevention draft plan "deeply flawed".
He said suicide was not a Maori problem, but a New Zealand problem, and as soon as people realised that the issue might be resolved.
"Suicide is not about race, it's about people."
The figures have led to calls for more to be done to reduce the number of people taking their own lives.
Marshall said New Zealand had much to do to turn around its "stubbornly high" rate of suicide.
"In the last year we've seen a lot of discussion about suicide and the incredible emotional toll it takes on those who are left behind."
She said it was important to acknowledge that people were taking their own lives, but that was only part of the conversation about suicide in the community.
"What is equally important is our discussion around how we can prevent suicides and how everyone – family, friends and colleagues – is able to recognise someone at risk and ensure they get the professional help they need."
Psychotherapist and mental health advocate Kyle MacDonald said he was not surprised the figures had gone up because nothing was being done any differently.
"We keep having the same conversations every year and we keep getting the same responses by people who have the power to make the changes. It really feels like a non-response."
He said people needed quick and easy access to face-to-face counselling because that worked.
Ministry of Health director of mental health Dr John Crawshaw said the figures indicated work must continue to bring down the "unacceptably high" number of suicides.
"Suicide has a devastating ripple effect across communities, not just for those who die by suicide, but for their whanau, families, friends, colleagues, sports teammates, neighbours and the wider community. The impacts of suicide on all our lives are long lasting and profound," he said.
"While some progress has been made, more needs to be done to prevent suicide across New Zealand."
He said the country had a long-term commitment to suicide prevention and work was being done on the Ministry's of Health's draft strategy on suicide prevention.
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said one suicide was too many and the issue was a "whole of society problem".
He said the evidence showed mental health services needed to be transformed to build resilience in children and young people to help them better deal with mental health issues and to learn how to overcome known risk factors such as trauma.
The Government's $100 million social investment fund for mental health would invest in a range of initiatives designed to improve access to mental health services, he said.
WHERE TO GET HELP
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 - Provides 24 hour telephone counselling
Youthline: 0800 376 633 or free text 234 - Provides 24 hour telephone and text counselling services for young people
Samaritans: 0800 726 666 - Provides 24 hour telephone counselling.
Tautoko: 0508 828 865 - provides support, information and resources to people at risk of suicide, and their family, whānau and friends.
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (noon to 11pm)
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (4pm - 6pm weekdays)
The Lowdown: thelowdown.co.nz - website for young people ages 12 to 19.
National Depression Initiative - depression.org.nz (for adults), 0800 111 757 - 24 hour service
If it is an emergency or you feel you or someone you know is at risk, please call 111
For information about suicide prevention, see www.mentalhealth.org.nz/suicideprevention.