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

Mental health experts are calling for urgent action as New Zealand suicide deaths reached their highest level since records began 12 years ago.

There were 685 suicides in the year to June 30 - 17 more than last year, when there were 668.

The suicide rate now stands at 13.93 per 100,000 people, compared to 13.67 in 2017/18, a 1.9 per cent increase.

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Rates of suicide among youth, Māori and Pacific Island people have risen dramatically, according to the provisional suicide statistics released today by Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern defended the speed of her Government's mental health reforms, saying there was "no question" the suicide rate was too high.

"There is no question that as a government we have to put our all into turning that around," Ardern told reporters at a weekly press conference.

"It is one of our biggest long-term challenges as nation. Not just as a government, as a nation."

The Government Budget in May included a $1.9 billion boost for the mental health and addiction programmes over five years, in response to the largest inquiry into the sector in decades.

Ardern said the issue was long-term and the Government had moved even before the inquiry's result, including rolling out more support into schools.

"We are moving quickly, but it is going to take time to create the kind of change we need as a nation. It's a huge challenge."

She reiterated the Government's position that there was not enough evidence to support setting a national suicide target.

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"A target implies we have a tolerance for suicide, and we do not. The goal is for no one to be lost to suicide."

A new national Suicide Prevention Strategy and a Suicide Prevention Office are set to be announced within weeks, Health Minister Dr David Clark said.

He called the figures a sad reminder of the scale of New Zealand's mental health challenge.

Health minister Dr David Clark says a national suicide prevention strategy will be announced shortly. File photo / Mark Mitchell
Health minister Dr David Clark says a national suicide prevention strategy will be announced shortly. File photo / Mark Mitchell

Mental health groups Te Rau Ora, Le Va and the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand have called for urgent action in the wake of the figures.

New Zealanders would wonder why suicide rates were not dropping despite sustained conversation and increased awareness of mental health, the group said.

"Change does take time, but there are things we can all be doing now to prevent suicide in our whānau and communities. We cannot and must not stop talking about how to prevent suicide," Le Va chief executive and clinical psychologist Dr Monique Faleafa said.

The group also called for tailored suicide prevention for Māori and Pacific Island people.

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Māori suicides - already disproportionately high - have jumped further, with 169 Māori people dying by suicide in the year to June 30, up 27 from 142 deaths last year.

Pacific Island suicides also rose, from 23 to 34 deaths. The rate of suicide among Pacific Islanders is lower than the national average but has jumped markedly this year.

The Māori suicide rate now stands at 28.23 per 100,000 people while the Pacific Island rate is at 11.49 per 100,000.

The number of European deaths by suicide fell slightly, from 462 to 446, putting the suicide rate at 13.46 per 100,000.

The youth suicide rate also rose dramatically. Among 15- to 19-year-olds, 73 died by suicide, up from 53 last year.

The suicide rate for that age group was 23.14 per 100,000, up from 16.88 - a 37 per cent increase.

In the 20-24 age range, deaths by suicide increased from 76 to 91. That put the suicide rate at 26.87 per 100,000 people, up from 21.21, a 27 per cent increase.

Psychotherapist Kyle MacDonald said the latest statistics were not surprising because it was well known that New Zealand was in the grip of a mental health crisis. But he said that it was heartbreaking that the suicide rate was still rising despite all the efforts to address it.

While there had been "no wild changes" in the factors driving the suicide rate, the latest figures could give the Government cause to speed up its Mental Health Inquiry, he said.

MacDonald said he was frustrated with the rate of progress being made by the inquiry. A crucial measure which would allow people to walk into a GP clinic and get immediate support had been funded in this year's Budget but was still in the planning phase.

Chief Censor David Shanks has meanwhile hit out at streaming services such as Netflix and the controversial show 13 Reasons Why, saying New Zealand needs better protections for vulnerable viewers.

Chief Censor David Shanks believes more regulation of streaming services, and warnings around suicide-related content in media, will help solve the problem. File photo / Mark Mitchell
Chief Censor David Shanks believes more regulation of streaming services, and warnings around suicide-related content in media, will help solve the problem. File photo / Mark Mitchell

Shanks wanted to see effective warnings for viewers around suicide content, saying there was a gap in media regulation related to streaming.

"We seem to be seeing trends towards more frequent and more detailed depictions of suicide in shows and films. And we know these depictions can impact vulnerable viewers. Sometimes severely," Shanks said.

Improving regulation would not solve the suicide problem on its own but could make a difference, he said.

The Chief Coroner offered her condolences to the families and friends of those who had died.

The annual provisional suicide statistics were released today by Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall. Photo / File
The annual provisional suicide statistics were released today by Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall. Photo / File

There were numerous reasons people chose to end their lives, from early life experiences to employment status and mental health, she said.

She was encouraged by suicide prevention initiatives that were taking place.

"We mourn those who died by suicide, but for those listening who are in the midst of pain, suicide doesn't have to be how your story ends. The truth is there is always another option, there are people you can speak to, there's something more to live for."

The suicide rate is at its highest since provisional statistics were first recorded for the 2007/08 year. It's still down on the 1998 peak of 15.1 per 100,000 people.

The statistics include active cases that are still before the Coroner who has yet to determine whether they were suicides.

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:

0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7)
https://www.lifeline.org.nz/services/suicide-crisis-helpline
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)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757 or TEXT 4202