Almost 10 years after he committed suicide, his widow still wakes screaming in the middle of the night.

Her sister Julz Lee says he was "the very, very last person you would have thought to have done it".

He had a steady job, a good marriage and two daughters aged 12 and 13.

"The hardest thing to come to terms with was the fact that nobody could understand it, there was no explanation as to why, even to this day," she says.


"She [his widow] kept all of his stuff for a very long time because she simply couldn't understand why.

"She has severe panic attacks and she has night terrors. She has remarried and her new husband is used to her screaming in the night terrors but I don't think it will ever leave her."

Lee, who will tell her family's story on Thursday at a West Auckland event displaying 579 shoes to remember 579 Kiwis who died by suicide last year, spoke out as the latest statistics showed that suicides reached a new record of 606 in the year to June 30.

She wants other bereaved families to be offered help - which her sister has never received.

Julz Lee says her sister still has panic attacks after her husband's death. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Julz Lee says her sister still has panic attacks after her husband's death. Photo / Jason Oxenham

"She never got any support. To this day she never did," she said. "No one ever told us there was support out there."

The new figures come two weeks after the Herald wrapped up a six-week series, Break the Silence, which addressed youth suicide; tackling the suffering of those suicidally depressed, the anguish of families and challenging the code of silence around the subject.

The latest suicide figures are the highest since coroner's records began nine years ago. The suicide rate of 12.64 for every 100,000 people is now as bad as the last peak of 12.65 six years ago.

Chief Coroner Judge Deborah 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.

"While acknowledging that people are taking their own lives is important, it is 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."

Victim support general manager Cam Cotter said bereaved families do now get much more support than Lee's family did a decade ago.

"What would happen now is that the police would refer that family to us and we would have a support worker there," he said.

But he said families might still have to pay if they wanted counselling. Victim Support requested funding for free counselling in a submission on a Ministry of Health suicide prevention strategy this year, but the draft strategy published in April does not propose it.

Mental Health Foundation (MHF) chief executive Shaun Robinson said the latest suicide figures are shocking and a sobering reflection on the failure of New Zealand to come together to prevent suicide in a co-ordinated way.

"Losing someone to suicide can be especially hard to cope with. We know that days like today, when everyone is talking about suicide, can be extremely difficult. Take care and keep in touch with your support people. You don't have to go through this alone," Robinson said.

Many people who die by suicide believe that they are a burden to their loved ones and the world would be better without them, he said.

"If that's true for you please talk to someone today. A friend, a family member, a helpline. You deserve help and support to get through this."

Robinson said thousands of people all around the country are working to prevent suicide and many positive programmes and initiatives are in place.

However, the lack of a unified suicide prevention strategy that spells out the role and responsibilities of all Government agencies, communities and individuals means that much of this work lacks direction and occurs in small pockets around New Zealand.

"It's time for us all to come together and turn this situation around," Robinson said.

The Public Service Association said the figures should be a wake-up call for New Zealand to truly address the crisis in mental health services and commit to a national suicide prevention target.

"New Zealand's suicide rate - the highest in the developed world for teenagers - should be considered a national disgrace after increasing for the third year in a row, and we simply must do more as a society to reduce this number," said PSA National Secretary Erin Polaczuk.

"To even begin to address this crisis, we must immediately hold an urgent independent inquiry into the delivery of mental health services, and we must set a national suicide prevention target.

"Without aiming to make things better, they will stay the same - and the status quo is a tragedy."

This year's figures show:

The 20-24-year-old age group recorded the highest number of suicides at 79.

This was followed by 64 deaths in each of the 25-29 and 40-44 age groups.

The number of men committing suicide jumped from 409 last year to 457 this year, but fell for woman from 170 last year to 149 this year.

Maori continue to have the highest suicide rate of 21.73 per 100,000 people with 130 deaths this year, the same as two years ago.

Where to get help:

If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.

Or if you need to talk to someone else:

LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7)
KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)