Real suicides figure is double what's reported - Mike King

Mental health advocate Mike King has slammed the Government for making suicide prevention more complicated than it is, after quitting a suicide prevention panel.

He also says he believes New Zealand's reported suicide numbers are only about half the reality.

A total of 579 Kiwis took their own lives in the 2015/2016 financial year, Ministry of Justice provisional figures show.

"You want a real shock? Five hundred and seventy-nine is not the real figure," Mr King said on The AM Show on Tuesday.

"Autocides aren't counted, drownings aren't counted, cliff falls aren't counted, and anyone who has a trace of drugs or alcohol in their system is not counted as a suicide - even if they leave a note."

He says the real number of suicides annually in New Zealand "would be well over a thousand".

However, the coroner's 2016 report shows suicide by drug overdose, jumping from high places and transport are included as methods in the data, but only where there is strong evidence to show the death was intended.

"In New Zealand, a death is only officially classified as a suicide by the coroner on completion of the coroner’s inquiry," the report says.

The coroner's role as a judicial officer is to look into the circumstances of a death and make findings based on the evidence before them, the Ministry of Justice says.

"They must do this to the civil threshold that the person intended to kill themselves on the 'balance of probabilities.' Sometimes people die from drug overdoses - e.g., because they wanted to get high - but they had no intention of killing themselves," the Ministry said in a statement.

Despite quitting the suicide prevention panel on Monday, Mr King says he will keep fighting for suicide awareness, working with the community and giving feedback tothe Ministry of Health.

"I'm just not going to waste my time sitting around browbeating, having a meeting that lasts eight hours to arrive at a decision that is completely ignored.

"[The panel] just meet and come up with flowery Māori sayings, Māori metaphors to describe where they're going to go and what they're going to do. It's meaningless tripe."

After Mr King quit the panel, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said in a statement: "I'd like to acknowledge and thank Mr King. He's a passionate campaigner around this incredibly complex and sensitive area of health."

"It's not complex," Mr King told The AM Show in response.

"These are just people who are hurting, who need the help that you keep promising. You keep saying that this is complex to make it look like it is impossible to fix. It's not complex.

"They're not drama queens, they're not attention-seekers, they're not cowards, they are just people who are hurting, who want help, who need help, and the help's not there."

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.