Rural suicide levels at a record low

Rural suicide levels at a record low

The number of New Zealand farmers taking their own lives is at the lowest point since provisional records began, according to the latest Ministry of Justice statistics.

Figures obtained by Newshub show in the year to June, 18 people who work in farming-related occupations committed suicide, compared with 27 in the previous year.

In fact, the latest numbers are the lowest since figures were first collated in 2007/08.

Rural suicide levels at a record low

"It's fantastic news and it's something that the Rural Support Trust has been working towards for quite a number of years," says Doug Archbold, chairperson of the trust in north Canterbury.

Mr Archbold says the improving statistics are the culmination of a number of factors.

"I think nationally there's been far more recognition of rural suicides and there has been a lot of measures coming right from the top to try and alleviate this," he says.

Last year the Government announced $500,000 worth of funding to the sector under its Rural Mental Wellness initiative, and then committed another $600,000 in June this year. The funding has led to increased mental health training and awareness.

The latest statistics come only weeks after it was revealed suicide rates for the general population are the highest since records began.

In the 2015/16 year, 579 people died by suicide - 15 more than the previous record high from 2014/15.

The rural decrease may be viewed as surprising given ongoing concerns around rural mental health, particularly given the volatile dairy industry, which only now is showing signs of improvement.

For the second year in a row, Waikato has been identified as the region where most farmers have taken their own lives, with six in 2014/15, and the same number in 2015/16.

"It's a very densely populated farming area. Waikato District Health Board is also a very large DHB, so you would expect that number would be higher, and the numbers over a given period of time probably fluctuate up and down," says Waikato Rural Support Trust chairman Neil Bateup.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs immediate help, call Lifeline on 0800 543 354 or the Suicide Prevention Helpline on 0508 828 865.

Note: These statistics are based on the number of suicides in various occupations in the farming community and do not necessarily reflect only farmers.