Suicide rates drop, but still more work to be done

By Paul Harper

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne says the declining rate is 'very encouraging'. File photo / NZPA
Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne says the declining rate is 'very encouraging'. File photo / NZPA

New Zealand's suicide rate declined slightly from 2008 to 2009, but the Mental Health Foundation and the Associate Health Minister agree there is still more work to be done.

The Ministry of Health has released its statistical report Suicide Facts: Deaths and intentional self-harm hospitalisations 2009, the most recent year available.

In total, 506 people died by suicide in New Zealand in 2009 - or 11.2 people per 100,000, down from 11.8 per 100,000 the year before.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said the 2009 rates were 25.5 percent below the peak rate in 1998.

"The declining rate is very encouraging, however, while we are clearly making progress there is still much to do because of the harm and anguish suicide causes for families and communities," Mr Dunne said.

"Preventing suicide is everyone's responsibility."

Youth suicides have dropped from 44.1 per 100,000 in 1995 to 29 per 100,000 in 2009, however New Zealand's youth suicide rate remains the highest in the OECD.

"It is disappointing, but the OECD comparison needs to be taken with considerable caution, especially given that stigma, cultural and social issues in some countries mean there is a real reluctance to report deaths as suicides," Mr Dunne said.

Mr Dunne said the Government is investing $62 million over four years in the Prime Minister's Youth Mental Health Project, which announced earlier this month. The Government will also be developing a new Suicide Prevention Action Plan later this year, he said.

"We want every young person who needs help to receive it in a way that works for them - and that is why the package will be delivered through schools, health professionals, online and at home.

"We also want parents to know where to turn which is why we've developed a new fund to provide information to parents, families and friends."

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Judi Clements urged all New Zealanders to think about how they can help reduce the country's suicide rate.

"While there is an overall downward trend in the suicide statistics, there is still a lot of work to do and we all have a role to play," Ms Clements said.

"Although Government action is essential, we can all get involved. We encourage New Zealanders to really think about how we can make a difference. It is about strengthening the connections we have with family, whanau, friends and the community. Some of the most effective protective factors are supportive relationships, belief in a positive future and a strong cultural identity."

The 2009 rates have only now become available because suspected suicide cases must be investigated by the coroner, which can take up to two years.

Mr Dunne said this was concerning, but new coronial and information-sharing processes between Coroners' offices and the Ministry of Health should speed up the process.

"We expect to be able to release the 2010 figures later this year. Working with more current data will enable us to better target our efforts in addressing suicide.

"As much as possible, we want to know what the problem is; not what the problem was," Mr Dunne said.

"Suicide is a complex issue, not least because the circumstances leading up to a suicide are different for every individual and may not be noticed. Some of the most effective prevention methods are strong friendships, healthy and supportive family relationships, and an individual's belief in a positive future.

"If you are concerned about a family member or friend, or need support yourself, there are many organisations that can help you."


WHERE TO GET HELP

* If it's an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111. Or call Youthline 0800 376 633, Lifeline 0800 543 354, Depression Helpline 0800 111 757, What's Up 0800 942 8787 (noon-midnight).

* Suicide Prevention Information New Zealand has more information. Visit: www.spinz.org.nz.

*The Ministry of Health also offers information at www.depression.org.nz, and a teen specific website at www.thelowdown.co.nz

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