The suicide rate dipped in Christchurch following the city's deadly earthquake in February, according to Justice Ministry statistics released this afternoon.

This is thought to be due to the greater degree of community cohesion that occurs temporarily in the aftermath of natural disasters.

Nationally, the number of suicides in the 12 months to the end of June increased slightly to 558, from 541 in 2009/10.

But in Christchurch, the month-by-month tally reduced from six to eight self-inflicted deaths from June last year to this January, to just one in February. Then from March to July there were between two and five suicides a month, a gradually increasing trend that suggests the city may be returning to its pre-February rate of around six.

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Chief coroner Judge Neil MacLean began releasing up-to-date suicide statistics last year, pointing out that the suicide rate is higher than the road toll and prompting a national debate on how suicide is reported by newspapers and broadcasters.

"The suicide toll is a really concerning commentary on our society,'' he said in a written statement that coincides with his release of the 2010/11 figures today.

"I have suggested that there may be room for a gentle opening-up of the restrictions on media reporting of suicide, but we need to consider all viewpoints - especially those of families - so we can make informed decisions.

"These statistics clearly show that what we have done in the past is not bringing the toll down so we must look for new solutions.''

Psychiatric epidemiologist Professor David Fergusson, of Otago University, Christchurch, said the small but detectable reduction in the city's suicide rate following the February earthquake "is not to be unexpected".

"Previous research has suggested there is often a reduction in suicide rates following natural disasters.

"This may be due to greater community cohesion and a sense of shared purpose, which is protective for those contemplating suicide.''