New Zealand’s persistently high suicide rates were one of the catalysts for this Inquiry, with many groups petitioning for government action. Every year, an estimated 150,000 people think about taking their own life, 50,000 make a suicide plan and 20,000 attempt to take their own life. In 2015, 525 people died by suicide.207 While New Zealand has made some progress in reducing suicide rates since the late 1990s, annual suicide rates reported by the Office of the Chief Coroner have increased over the last four years, with the current suicide rate the highest since 1999.208 In addition to the number of lives lost, every suicide creates significant, far-reaching impacts on the person’s friends, family and whānau, and the wider community. All of these aspects support the prevention of suicide as being a key focus, as outlined in our Terms of Reference (see Appendix A).
Many people raised the limited awareness about suicide, with many bereaved families and whānau reporting they were not aware of the early signs of suicide risk or what they should do to support someone at risk of suicide. We also heard strong concerns about the responsiveness of services, including that people needed to be acutely suicidal to access services (although even this was sometimes not enough) and that people at risk of suicide were discharged from care without an appropriate suicide prevention or follow-up plan.
Families and whānau told us that support for people bereaved by suicide was often inadequate, and that children and young people should be the focus of attention. Families and whānau also said they were not adequately included in formal processes following a suicide.
In this chapter, we focus on identifying a pathway to reduce suicide in New Zealand and providing better support for people who have experienced the suicide of a loved one. Our recommendations require a concerted effort across government to achieve sustainable decreases in suicide across the country.
207 Ministry of Health. 2018. Submission to the Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction. Wellington: Ministry of Health. www.health.govt.nz/our-work/mental-health-and-addictions/mental-health/mental-health-work-ministry/submission- government-inquiry-mental-health-and-addiction.(external link)
208 Suicide deaths reported by the Chief Coroner differ from those reported by the Ministry of Health, because the Chief Coroner’s data includes all deaths initially identified as self-inflicted, while only those deaths ultimately reported as intentionally self-inflicted are reported as suicide deaths by the Ministry of Health. Because of the time taken to complete a coroner’s inquiry, Ministry of Health data trails data reported by the Chief Coroner by a number of years.