Suicide rates rise for women, drop for men

By Heather McCracken

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

New figures show women are catching up to men in suicide rates, with provisional statistics released today showing more women and fewer men took their lives in the past year.

Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean said the gender shift appeared to be the most significant emerging trend, and mirrored the rising number of women involved in violent crime.

"I wasn't surprised to see it because I'm aware of the same trend occurring with violent crime," Judge MacLean said.

Suicides among women and girls increased from 142 in 2011/2012 to 153 in 2012/2013. Among men and boys, the number fell from 405 to 388.

While the rate per capita was still well below that of males, it had been increasing since 2007.

"It's a trend that we'll really watch with interest."

Judge MacLean said more attention would also be paid to elderly, as the highest rate of suicide was among men aged over 85 - which he said came as a surprise.

"It is a grey, uncertain area, but we need to know a lot more about it," he said.

Suicide among elderly was sometimes difficult to identify, particularly in cases of "slow suicide."

"That's the person that's starving themselves, refusing their medication, simply giving up the will to live. It merges sometimes with euthanasia and that's a very grey area."

Suicides in Christchurch City had dropped since the earthquakes, something seen following major disasters around the world, but there was concern numbers would begin to trend upwards again.

People pulling together and helping each other following the earthquake was a key reason for the drop, Judge MacLean said.

"There's a huge amount of support networks, formal and informal, in place in Christchurch. Psychologists and psychiatrists are flat tack, counselling services are busy. But there's also been a healthy realisation that we should be looking out for each other, you should be helping your neighbour.

"Doing something to help someone else actually has a therapeutic benefit on yourself, makes you feel better."

Maori youth suicide had dropped, with suicides among those aged 10 to 20 down from 46 to 26.

Judge MacLean said there would be continuing focus on youth, particularly on prompt action in schools, marae and communities after a suicide had occurred, as peers of the victim were at higher risk of suicide.

But he said it was very hard to determine which initiatives, if any, were having an impact on the rate of suicide.

"We don't know and could never prove that a drop was the reflect of any one particular thing."

Chief coroner MacLean said New Zealand's suicide rate remained high by international standards, and had stayed "stubbornly the same" over a number of years. "It almost defies explanation as to why that would be."

The law commission are currently looking into rules around media reporting of suicide, and are expected to report back early next year.

Chief coroner MacLean said the current restrictions were based on fear of copycat deaths, but he did not believe this was a significant factor in New Zealand.

"When you look at who's committing suicide, and particularly say, under 25s, they're probably not looking at the media anyway."

He believed social networks, Facebook, and interaction between peers would have more impact than media coverage.

The Mental Health Foundation urged New Zealanders to connect with each other and not be afraid to ask some hard questions.

"Suicide rates in New Zealand have decreased from their peak in the late 90s but the coroner's data indicates that the rates have not decreased in recent years," said Moira Clunie, development manager for Suicide Prevention Information New Zealand.

The latest Suicide Prevention Action Plan indicated a sense of renewed focus in the field of suicide prevention, and the MHF hoped to see initiatives introduced by the plan make a difference to suicide rates in New Zealand.

Organisations all over New Zealand were working with groups who are at risk of suicide to address their needs and encourage them to seek help, but it's also important to remember that each of us can play a part in preventing suicide.

"If you're worried about somebody and concerned for their welfare, reach out to them and don't be afraid to ask if they're thinking about suicide," Ms Clunie said.

"It is important to note that although our rates of youth suicide are higher than average for OECD countries, New Zealand's overall suicide rates is in fact below average for OECD countries."

Associate Health Minister Todd McClay said there were signs that concerted community and health agency programmes and activities had been effective in reducing suicides among youth and Maori and that was encouraging.

"Addressing the complex and challenging issue of suicide requires everyone to work together: communities, whanau, families and individuals, government agencies and NGOs. The whole of society has a role to play in reducing the number of preventable deaths by suicide," he said.

This year saw the release of the New Zealand Suicide Prevention Action Plan 2013-2016, to address New Zealand's high suicide rates.

"The action plan has been designed as a programme that engages all New Zealanders. It aims to address a range of factors that are associated with suicide including strengthening support for family, whanau and communities and extending existing services, specifically addressing geographical gaps in the coverage of services," Mr McClay said.

Provisional suicide figures: 2012/2013 (2011/2012)
Total suicides: 541 (547)
Females: 153 (142)
Males: 388 (405)
Christchurch City: 68 (81)
Maori: 105 (132)

Where to get help

Youth services: (06) 3555 906

Youthline: 0800 376 633

Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (4pm to 6pm weekdays)

Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (noon to midnight)

The Word

Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (24-hour service)

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

CASPER Suicide Prevention

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

- APNZ

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