The country's suicide rate may be three times as high as official figures suggest.

The most recent statistics put New Zealand's suicide rate at about 11 people a week, almost 570 in a full year.

But Timaru GP Dr Oliver Bourke told Fairfax Media coroners won't rule a death as suicide unless it's very clear the person intended taking their own life.

Dr Bourke said deaths will be classified in a different category, such as an accident, or the cause will go down as undetermined - what's known as an "open verdict".


Former Chief Coroner Neil MacLean said he would like to think the open verdicts did not mask the true suicide rate as the coroners were professionals and studied it in great detail.

Previous studies have recommended that open verdicts should be included in all suicide research, excluding cases in which suicide was unlikely.

Judge MacLean has previously been very outspoken on suicide, saying it remains a taboo topic that is rarely talked about or discussed.

In a note still on the coroner's website, he says "it is my view that more discussion of suicide and the provision of more accurate information about suicide in New Zealand can only be for the better".

Statistics show that 564 people took their own lives in the year to June 2015, up from 529 in 2014.

The suicide rate increased from 11.73 for every 100,000 people in the year to June last year to 12.27 this year, breaking a steady decline from a recent peak of 12.65 in 2010-11.

In the longer term, Ministry of Health data show that the age-standardised suicide rate fluctuated at around 10 for every 100,000 people for about 35 years up to 1985, then jumped to between 13 and 15 during the economic reforms and associated high unemployment in the 1990s.

The rate dropped back to about 12 in the year 2000 and has fluctuated at around that level ever since.

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.