Warning: This article is about suicide and may be distressing for some readers.

The country's annual provisional suicide number is once again the highest since records began, rising for the fourth consecutive year to a record 668 deaths.

New Zealand's suicide rate – the number of suicides per 100,000 population - is now over 13 for the first time. It has been recorded as 13.67, up from 12.64.

The Māori suicide total, 142 deaths during the 2017/18 year, is also the highest since the provisional statistics were first recorded for the 2007/08 year.


Male Māori continue to be disproportionately represented in these statistics, making up 97 of the 668 deaths in the 2017/18 year.

Mental Health Foundation Māori development manager Ellen Norman said it was time to empower Māori and give them the resources they need to continue to strengthen whānau and communities.

"We can't ignore the social determinants of suicide, including poverty, violence and the legacy of colonisation.

"We won't see a shift in our suicide rates until we start to address these factors."

Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson said people needed to reach out to those who were grieving and ask how they could help.

"News like this [the release of the new statistics] can be especially overwhelming if you have recently lost someone to suicide," he said.

It was equally important to check in with those who may be experiencing depression or finding life hard, Robinson said.

"We must be ready to offer our awhi and aroha [support and love] and work with them to get them the support they need and deserve."


Robinson said lots of people would express shock and anger at the statistics.

"We share those feelings. But we must not allow ourselves to lose hope that we will turn these numbers around and prevent suicide in Aotearoa."

Thousands of people had come through times of feeling suicidal and survived, Robinson said.

"We need to listen to what worked for them and why. There's no single solution – there are lots of things that will help, and all of us - government, community, businesses, whānau – everyone – need to work on this together."

Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall, who today released the annual provisional suicide statistics, said suicide continued to be a significant health and social problem in New Zealand.

"It's a tragedy to see the number of self-inflicted deaths increase again.

"We need to keep talking about how to recognise the signs that someone may want to take their own life.

"If someone expresses thoughts and feelings about suicide, take them seriously."

Coroners looked into each case of suspected suicide to try and shed light on what factors prompted it, she said.

"Recommendations made in the last year include facilitating better information sharing between health care professionals, ensuring that adequate and up-to-date training in suicide risk assessment is undertaken by counsellors and psychotherapists and making policy changes to how mental health referrals are handled by District Health Boards.

"However, the same comment is often repeated by coroners. If you think someone is at risk, support them to reach the appropriate services as soon as possible."

The 2017/18 annual provisional suicide statistics show:

• Female suicides have increased by 44 compared to last year, while male suicides increased by 18. The ratio of female to male suicides is 1:2.46.

• The age cohort with the highest number of suicides was the 20-24-year-old group, with 76 deaths, followed by the 45-49-year-old group, with 67 deaths.

• The Māori suicide total (142 deaths) and rate (23.72 per 100,000) are the highest since provisional statistics were first recorded for 2007/08.

• Male Māori continue to be disproportionately represented in the provisional suicide statistics, with 97 deaths last year.

Devastated mum calls provisional statistics a wake-up call:

Waikato mum Jane Stevens is a passionate advocate for change in the mental health system.

Stevens lost her son Nicky Stevens to a suspected suicide in 2015 and said today's provisional data left her reeling.

"That's over a 10 per cent increase from the previous year's record high," Stevens said.

"I just keep thinking of all those people lost to suicide and all those families and communities who are utterly devastated, their lives completely turned upside down.

"This is a huge challenge to all of us and puts in stark focus the importance and urgency of the work of the Mental Health Inquiry".

Everybody needed to act, not just DHBs, she said.

"This is a wake-up call to all of us. Burying our heads in the sand about the suicide epidemic can't continue. It's our loved ones that are ending up dead and buried as a result."

The Government's response:

The Government has called the provisional data sobering.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was a tragedy so many New Zealanders took their lives in a single year.

"Behind each of those statistics is not just a life lost, but a devastated family and a shattered community," she said.

"It is critically important that people – wherever they are in the country – can access help when they need it. We know we need to do more to make sure that happens.

"We must keep reminding each other that it's not wrong or weak to talk about how we are feeling, but vital to our mental health. Sadly there is still stigma around doing that."

Health Minister Dr David Clark said mental health was a priority for the Government.

"In the Coalition Government's first 100 days we responded to the public call for an inquiry into mental health and addiction," he said.

"I gave the inquiry a strong direction by ensuring its terms of reference included an examination of current work on suicide prevention and support for those close to someone who has taken their own life.

"The inquiry was also given deliberately wide terms of reference so that it could look at everything from the drivers of mental health issues to the provision of mental health services and the wider community response to these issues."

Green Party Youth spokeswoman Chlöe Swarbrick said the heart-breaking crisis was "ripping through communities", disproportionately among young people and among Māori.

"We urgently must do more to protect our people, provide them with an environment where they feel they can speak about their experiences, and provide fit for purpose and culturally appropriate mental health services," she said.

The mental health inquiry report was due in October, and it could not come soon enough, she said.

Where you can 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 111.

If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:

LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234
1737 NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737