Old people are at high risk of suicide as they try to cope with living on the pension and fewer social interactions, a Wairarapa advocate for the elderly says.

The comments follow the release of provisional annual suicide figures which showed the nation's highest rate of suicide was among men aged over 85.

The figures, released this week, were for the year ending in June.

The Wellington coronial office dealt with 58 suicides in the last year, up from 48 the year before and 52 in 2010/2011.


The Wellington office covers Wellington, Kapiti, Lower Hutt, Masterton, Porirua, Upper Hutt and Chatham Islands.

Separate figures for Wairarapa were unavailable.

Wairarapa Age Concern manager Charlie Fairbrother said elderly people were a high-risk group.

"When they experience having their friends and family dying around them, they can suffer from depression, which is always quite an important factor in suicide."

Elderly people suffered the same problems as everyone else, whether it was financial constraints, or relationship problems.

But they had the added pressures of living on the pension and the lack of social interaction that came from losing mobility.

Age Concern Wairarapa provided a regular visitor service for elderly people identified as high-risk or who just wanted to speak to someone. It also ran events so elderly people could socialise.

Mr Fairbrother said Age Concern worked hard to raise awareness about elderly suicide.

Chief Coroner Judge Neil MacLean said the rates were a surprise, and more attention should be paid to the elderly.

"It is a grey, uncertain area, but we need to know a lot more about it."

Suicide among elderly was sometimes difficult to identify, particularly in cases of "slow suicide".

"That's the person that's starving themselves, refusing their medication, simply giving up the will to live. It merges sometimes with euthanasia and that's a very grey area."

The figures also showed women were catching up to men in suicide rates, with more women and fewer men taking their lives in the past year.

Judge MacLean said the gender shift appeared to be the most significant emerging trend, and mirrored the rising number of women involved in violent crime. "I wasn't surprised to see it because I'm aware of the same trend occurring with violent crime."

Suicides among women and girls increased from 142 in 2011/12 to 153 in 2012/13. Among men and boys, the number fell from 405 to 388. While the female suicide rate per capita was still well below that of males, it had been increasing since 2007.

Suicides in Christchurch had dropped since the earthquakes, something seen internationally following major disasters, but there was concern numbers would trend upwards again.

Maori youth suicide had dropped, with suicides among those aged 10 to 20 down from 46 to 26.

Judge MacLean said there would be continuing focus on youth, particularly on prompt action in schools, marae and communities after a suicide had occurred, as peers of the victim were at higher risk.

New Zealand's suicide rate remained high by international standards, and had stayed "stubbornly the same" for years. APNZ