The challenge of suicide

The Government's new national suicide prevention strategy and a suicide prevention office are being keenly anticipated.

When recently released provisional figures for the year to June showed deaths by suicide in New Zealand were the highest on record, concern not enough is being done to prevent this ongoing horror is understandable.

However, whatever the strategy calls for and what the new office provides, there will be no quick fix or one-size-fits-all answer.

Globally, suicide claims more than 800,000 lives a year, which equates to one suicide every 40 seconds.

Knowing we are not alone in facing this challenge does not make it any easier for families devastated by these deaths. It is estimated that for each suicide, about 135 people experience intense grief or are othewise affected.

The latest statistics show overall the number of deaths in New Zealand rose by 17 last year compared with the previous year, taking the total to 685. The lowest the annual figure has been in the last 12 years was 531 in the 2008-09 year.

The Southern DHB region was one of eight across the country where the numbers of deaths had decreased slightly from the previous year. However, in 2017-18, the region had a record number of 65 deaths. In the most recent year, the number was 57. The lowest annual figure in the past 12 years was 31 (2013-14) Nationally, there has been particular concern at the increase in the number of deaths in the 15-19 year age group, the 20-24 bracket, and the Maori and Pacific Island rates.

So far, the Goverment has substantially increased spending on mental health services, including $455million for new frontline services and $40million for suicide prevention.

The report from the recent Government inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction chaired by Prof Ron Paterson pointed out that nearly half of New Zealanders who die by suicide had recent contact with mental health services and many more were likely to have had contact with a general practitioner in the previous year. This suggested opportunities for preventive action and early intervention were being missed.

The report considered a 20% reduction in suicides by 2030 was achievable, although the aspiration should be that no suicide was acceptable.

The report cautioned against expecting an immediate decrease in suicide rates.

Some strategies could deliver some relatively rapid decreases, but other measures such as addressing poverty and family violence, supporting and strengthening parenting, and nuturing resilience during early life might not show up in reduced suicide rates for a generation.

Those who have been advocating for years for improvements in those areas will no doubt be growing impatient at the rate of progress.

The mental health and addiction inquiry agreed with the sentiment, expressed to it by many, that preventing suicide should be everyone's business.

While there had been much more openness and public discussion in recent years around suicide, it described literacy around the topic as low.

It is hard to argue with the inquiry's view that it is essential there is safe messaging for these discussions and that they are culturally sound.

Most of us will have been affected by suicide, and although we may want to do something, it is easy to feel helpless or inadequate.

Hopefully, the role each of us might play in prevention will be addressed in the Government's announcements. In the meantime, World Suicide Prevention Day tomorrow may provide some ideas.

Organisers suggest we can each do our bit with such things as raising awareness about the issue, educating ourselves and others about the causes and warning signs, showing compassion and care for those in distress in our communities, questioning the stigma around suicide, suicidal behaviour and mental health and sharing our own experiences .

Need help?

1737, free 24/7 phone and text

Healthline: 0800 611-116

Lifeline Aotearoa: 0800 543-354

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828-865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

Samaritans: 0800 726-666

General mental health inquiries: 0800 443-366

The Depression Helpline: 0800 111-757

Youthline: 0800 376-633, txt 234 or

What’s Up (for 5 to 18-year-olds; 1pm-11pm): 0800 942-8787

Kidsline (aimed at children up to age 14; 4pm-6pm weekdays): 0800 54-37-54 (0800 kidsline)

Add a Comment

Local journalism matters - now more than ever

As the Covid-19 pandemic brings the world into uncharted waters, Otago Daily Times reporters and photographers continue to bring you the stories that matter. For more than 158 years our journalists have provided readers with local news you can trust. This is more important now than ever.

As advertising drops off during the pandemic, support from our readers is crucial. You can help us continue to bring you news you can trust by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter