The rural demographic that's shown a sharp drop in suicides

Warning: This article discusses suicide.

The number of young rural men taking their own lives has dropped sharply in New Zealand, despite rural suicides surpassing the urban rate for more than a decade.

Data from the Ministry of Health over the last 10 years shows the difference between rural and urban suicide rates. For rural suicide in 2016, the rate was 13.8 per 100,000 people, in comparison to the urban rate of 11.

The information also shows something promising: the suicide rate for young men in rural areas has significantly decreased over time, from a peak of 54.4 per 100,000 in 2009 to just 15 per 100,000 in 2015.

The rural demographic that's shown a sharp drop in suicides
Photo credit: Newshub

Men, in general, have a much higher rate of suicide than women in New Zealand. For rural suicide among men, the rate was 20.3 per 100,000 in 2016, in comparison to the female rate of 6.8.

The same trend could be seen with urban. The suicide rate for men was 16.6 per 100,000 in 2016, in comparison to the female rate of 5.7.

The rate of suicide among men has remained high, peaking for urban men in 2012 at 18.2 per 100,000, in comparison to the much higher peak for rural men of 26.5 per 100,000 in 2008.

The rural demographic that's shown a sharp drop in suicides
Photo credit: Newshub
The rural demographic that's shown a sharp drop in suicides
Photo credit: Newshub

A Ministry of Health spokesperson told Newshub rural communities are more likely to experience risk factors for poor mental health and suicide.

Those factors include "physical and social isolation; economic deprivation and high unemployment in some areas; high levels of drug and alcohol use and limited access to health services".

National's agriculture spokesperson Todd Muller is concerned about farmers' mental health and believes they aren't being treated with the respect they deserve.

"The crisis of confidence occurring in rural communities is immensely distressing and my heart goes out to all those feeling the pressure," he told Newshub.

He also said it doesn't help when they've "been labelled 'rednecks' by senior Cabinet ministers", referring to comments New Zealand First MP Shane Jones made at a rally last month.

Health Minister David Clark said New Zealand has a "long and sad history of suicide", but he said the Government is "absolutely committed to tackling" it.

"I think one suicide is one too many and certainly there's a lot of awareness around rural suicide, but there is also around urban... Unfortunately, too many people are affected across our country."

National leader Simon Bridges raised similar concerns in an interview with Rural Exchange last week, telling host Dominic George farmers "feel absolutely kicked and downtrodden by all sectors of society".

"They look at all the stuff that's coming at them and have a sense that the Government doesn't believe in them and wants them to do less of what they do - and that has a real effect."

Bridges joined thousands of West Coasters last month marching against Government policies, including proposed changes to freshwater laws.

"There's a real sense that the Coast is under attack, that its way of living... its livelihood connected to the land is under assault, so I'm here to support the growing anger," he said at the time.

Bridges told Rural Exchange people living in urban areas might hear about rural mental health concerns and say, 'Oh that's a bit dramatic'.

"But actually, every time I get out into our rural communities, I hear it and I feel it."

Earlier this year, National proposed a mobile rural health clinic to reach isolated communities.

Dr Clark said the Government is paying attention to rural concerns and mental health issues as a whole, pointing to the $1.9 billion investment into mental health in Budget 2019.

"We recently launched the Suicide Prevention Office, we have a strategy in place which looks across a range of areas including rural, and we've invested a lot in frontline services because we do want to get to things early before small problems become big ones."

The Every Life Matters Suicide Prevention Strategy includes a list of initiatives such as Farmstrong and Rural Support Trusts that provide mental health support for rural communities.

The spokesperson told Newshub investment in telehealth services around New Zealand is important in making rural health a priority. 

"Technology is going to be a driver of change for health care in the future. We work collaboratively with the sector to ensure a joined-up approach to embracing health technology.

"We see a number of benefits for patients, including faster access to care and shorter wait times. Remote patients can remain close to home, making consultations more convenient and reducing travel."

New Zealand's latest suicide statistics released in August showed another annual increase. In the year to June 30, 685 people took their own lives - 17 more than the previous year.