NZ suicide rates lower

New Zealand has had a major problem with deaths by suicide – they have risen to nearly double the road toll. There is a slight glimmer of hope, with the number and rate of suicides dropping slightly in the year to June 2020, both the lowest of the last three years.

There was unsubstantiated claims (via social media) that the Covid pandemic and lockdowns would increase the number of suicides but that appears to be false.

Stuff: Chief Coroner opposes rumours suicide rate increased during Covid-19 lockdown

Reports that New Zealand’s suicide rate increased during Covid-19 lockdown have been opposed by the Chief Coroner.

Judge Deborah Marshall noted the rumours – which were spread on social media by someone claiming to be in contact with a police officer – were “incorrect”.

“I can confirm based on the provisional numbers I have, this is incorrect,” she explained.

She labelled the reports of a reported rise in suicide rates in Alert Level 4 as “concerning”.

“The provisional trend suggests the suicide rate was lower during the Alert Level 4 period than the 33 days prior to it (22 February – 25 March 2020).

“The suicide rate during Alert Level 4 was also lower than the rate for the same period from 2008 to 2020.”

New Zealand Police and the Mental Health Foundation previously said there was no evidence to support such claims. The Foundation slammed the rumour as false and potentially dangerous.

The rumour stemmed from a tweet that claimed an unnamed police officer informed the account holder of a massive increase in suicides across the country. The tweet and account was later deleted.

Police Assistant Commissioner Sandy Venables told Stuff earlier in the month there was no official data released yet, and the number of mental health call-outs appeared steady.

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson said there was “absolutely no truth” to the rumour and that it was “totally irresponsible and untrue”.

The statistics July-June (provisional, it can take coroners some time to determine causes of death) with rate per 100,000 in brackets:

  • 2007/2008 – 540 (12.20)
  • 2008/2009 – 531 (12.04)
  • 2009/2010 – 541 (12.16)
  • 2010/2011 – 558 (12.65)
  • 2011/2012 – 547 (12.34)
  • 2012/2013 – 541 (12.10)
  • 2013/2014 – 529 (11.73)
  • 2014/2015 – 564 (12.27)
  • 2015/2016 – 579 (12.33)
  • 2016/2017 – 606 (12.64)
  • 2017/2018 – 668 (13.67)
  • 2018/2019 – 685 (13.93)
  • 2019/2020 – 654 (13.01)

Source: Provisional figures – August 2020 [PDF, 880 KB]

Chief Coroner Releases Annual Provision Suicide Figures:

Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall today released the annual provisional suicide statistics, which show the provisional suicide rate is at its lowest in three years.

In the year to 30 June 2020, 654 people died by suicide, compared to 685 the year before – a decrease of 31 deaths, and a drop in the suicide rate from 13.93 deaths per 100,000 to 13.01.

“While it is encouraging to see the suspected suicide rate and number drop for the past year, it’s important to remember that there are still more than 650 families who have lost someone in tragic circumstances,” Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall says.

“My sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who died by suspected suicide in the past year.”

There was a decrease in the number of young people dying by suspected suicide, particularly in the 15-19 age range (down from 73 to 59) and the 20-24 age range (down from 91 to 60). Both rates decreased from 23.14 to 18.69 and from 26.87 to 17.77 respectively.

However, there was an increase in suspected suicides in the 80-84 age range, with 12 more people dying by suicide in the past year (18) than the year before (6). The rate increased from 6.49 to 19.48.

The Māori and Pacific Island suspected suicide rates both decreased over the past year, from 21.78 to 20.24 and from 8.91 to 7.07 respectively. The European rate also dropped from 13.02 to 12.08.

However, the Asian rate went up from 5.09 to 7.91 – an increase of 20 deaths.

“Throughout this year there has been unhelpful and irresponsible public commentary on the effect COVID-19 would have on the suicide rate,” Judge Marshall says. “During the first lockdown period I said it was unhelpful to release figures for such a short time frame, as it is nearly impossible to draw sound conclusions, nor do I believe such public discourse is helpful to people in distress.

“I’m encouraged by the work the Suicide Prevention Office has started and for the reliable, strong and hope-filled voice that director Carla na Nagara has added to the wider public discourse.”