New Zealand's suicide rate drops for second consecutive year

New Zealand's suicide rate has dropped for a second consecutive year, the Chief Coroner has revealed. 

Judge Deborah Marshall released the figures to June 30, 2021 on Monday, which show 607 people died by suspected suicide, compared to 628 the year before - a decrease of 21 deaths, and a drop in the suspected suicide rate from 11.8 deaths per 100,000 to 11.6.

"Understanding what a change in numbers and rates from one year to the next means is difficult because these numbers and rates can fluctuate considerably," says Judge Marshall.

"But it is heartening to see that the year's figures show fewer deaths overall."

Among Māori populations there was a decrease in suspected suicides from 19.8 per 100,000 people to 15.8, but for Pacific populations there was an increase in the suspected suicide rate from 7.2 to 9.6.

More broadly, there was a decrease in suspected suicides for females and males in the 15-24 age range, from 12.6 to 11.4 among females and 22.7 to 22.2 in males.

"The suspected suicide rate and number has declined, which is encouraging. But it's important to remember the many families who have lost someone, and I offer my sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who died by suspected suicide in the past year," says Judge Marshall.

Director of the Suicide Prevention Office, Carla na Nagara, also acknowledges the tragedy reflected in the data and says it will take more than two years of decreases to establish a trend.

"While it is encouraging the numbers of suspected suicides are lower than last year, there are still far too many whānau, families and communities who have lost loved ones, and I extend my deepest sympathies to them," says na Nagara.

It is the second consecutive year numbers have decreased, but na Nagara says the evidence shows there is a need to see a decline over at least a five-year period before a meaningful downward trend in suicide numbers and rates can be established.

"The Suicide Prevention Office will continue its efforts, alongside the Chief Coroner and communities all around Aotearoa, to address the complex issues that contribute to our suicide rates. We all have a part to play to prevent similar deaths from occurring."

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson acknowledged the deep grief and pain behind the numbers. 

"We know behind this number are the stories of 607 people who leave behind devastated friends, whānau, colleagues and communities, and today we acknowledge their deep grief and pain and commit to continuing to work every day to prevent suicide in Aotearoa. 

Robinson said the Foundation is cautiously optimistic after the rate overall rate fell for the second year. 

"While it's difficult to see trends year-on-year, any decrease is welcomed. We need to try to learn from the suicide prevention efforts that are working, while also seeking to learn from what has not worked and continue to do better." 

He said he was particularly glad to see the rates drop for many years, including Māori and young people.

Robinson also hit out at persistent rumours that lockdowns cause dramatic spikes in suicide rates, saying today's statisctics should silence these rumours.

"They [rumours] put vulnerable people at risk and cause unreasonable fear in our community.

 "We are aware of increased levels of distress, especially in Auckland, where lockdown is taking its toll on the wellbeing of so many people. But speculation that this will lead to increases in suicide is unfounded. 

"Distress is a signal that we need to do more to look after each other, invest in wellbeing and take immediate action. But at the moment we have an opportunity to come together, work with a shared purpose and be a part of something bigger than ourselves. That boosts wellbeing and is protective against suicide and shouldn’t be discounted." 

Kirsty Louden from bereavement service Aoake te Ra says suicide is incredibly traumatic for the family and community. 

"Traumatic grief carries unique challenging emotions with it, that can be shock, isolation, anger, intense grief and loss."

Louden said there are too many deaths by suicide in Aotearoa and that needs to change. 

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