Coronavirus: Suicide rate was lower during lockdown than before it, provisional figures show

Warning: This article discusses suicide.

A viral rumour that New Zealand's suicide rate had skyrocketed during the COVID-19 lockdown has been shut down after provisional figures showed a drop in suicides during alert level 4.

Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall told Newshub the provisional trend suggests the suicide rate had actually dipped over the 33-day lockdown period (March 26 to April 28) compared to the 33 days prior to it (February 22 to March 25).

The suicide rate during alert level 4 was also lower than the rate for the same period from 2008 to 2020, said Judge Marshall, who has been working closely with the Suicide Prevention Office to monitor suspected suicide numbers.

The release of provisional figures comes after a claim the suicide rate had increased markedly went viral on Twitter earlier this month.

"Just heard from a cop," a post shared widely on the social media platform read. "61 suicides in NZ last week. It's reaching 6 a day. Where are the media on this?" 

Even though the numbers didn't add up, several politicians responded to the tweet, causing the rumour to spread further.

Now, Judge Marshall has stepped in to rubbish it officially.

"It would be irresponsible to release provisional numbers for such a short period of time, or to associate these figures with the pandemic, as the numbers can rise and fall for many reasons," Judge Marshall told Newshub.

"The release of annual provisional figures allows for more accurate comparison.

"However, there have been concerning reports of a reported rise in suicide rates during alert level 4. In the interests of addressing this, I can confirm based on the provisional numbers I have, this is incorrect."

All suspected suicides reported to the Coroner during alert level 4 or later are in the process of being investigated, Judge Marshall says, and intent is therefore yet to be established.

"There are always a number of contributing factors involved when people die by suicide and these are highly personal to each individual," she told Newshub.

Earlier this month, Mental Health Foundation CEO Shaun Robinson said there was "absolutely no truth" to the claim suicides had increased, labelling the rumour "totally irresponsible and untrue".

"There are very few people in the country who are able to accurately assess numbers of suicides at a national level in real-time. It is critically important not to contribute to misunderstandings and false information about suicide in New Zealand.

"While mental health workers, police and other people are an integral part of New Zealand's suicide prevention efforts, individuals will not be able to give an accurate picture of national suicides."

Where to find help and support: 

  • Shine (domestic violence) - 0508 744 633
  • Women's Refuge - 0800 733 843 (0800 REFUGE)
  • Need to Talk? - Call or text 1737
  • What's Up - 0800 WHATS UP (0800 942 8787)
  • Lifeline - 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
  • Youthline - 0800 376 633, text 234, email or online chat
  • Samaritans - 0800 726 666
  • Depression Helpline - 0800 111 757
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
  • Shakti Community Council - 0800 742 584