Mental Health Foundation shuts down 'irresponsible' suicide claims being made on social media

The tweet has been condemned as irresponsible and untrue. Photo credit: Getty

Warning: This story contains discussion of suicide.

The Mental Health Foundation has slammed "irresponsible" claims on social media there were 61 suicides last week because of the lockdown.

"Just heard from a cop," the person, whom Newshub has chosen not to name, posted on Twitter. "61 suicides in NZ last week. It's reaching 6 a day. Where are the media on this?" 

While the maths in the Twitter post didn't add up, it was still shared and liked hundreds of times.

In the year to June 30, 2019, 685 people took their own lives - 17 more than the previous year. That's fewer than two a day, about 13 a week.

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson told Newshub he was disappointed some politicians replied to the viral tweet.

In a statement on Sunday, the Mental Health Foundation said there was no evidence for the claim. 

"There is absolutely no truth to this rumour," said Robinson says. "It is totally irresponsible and untrue."

There has been concern since the country went into lockdown in March, to stop the spread of the virus behind COVID-19, that the economic and psychological impacts would result in a rise in mental health problems.

Robinson said there was no way to tell yet whether that would include an increase in suicides, only six weeks into the unprecedented measures.

"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."

Robinson said the false claim might actually result in more people turning to suicide.

"Whenever we have a public discussion about suicide, people who are currently suicidal or who are vulnerable to suicide are always listening. It's often not possible to tell who these people are, particularly online. But they’re there, and, often, they are looking for reasons to justify or rationalise how they’re feeling - they're very vulnerable to the suggestion that if others are taking this path then they could take it too. We  should not be adding to this serious risk."

The person who made the claim has since made their account private, but screenshots of their tweet have been spread on other social media, such as Instagram. 

"These rumours and their accompanying commentary imply that suicide is an expected, understandable and proportionate response to COVID-19, and that’s both untrue and an extremely unhelpful thing to suggest," said Robinson.

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