When Your Head Spins

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NEWS COVERAGE (1999-2008)

UNICEF report an indictment (2007)
'Hush-hush' suicide reporting doesn't work (2007)
Teen suicides 'a community tragedy' (2007)
Misconceptions a concern (2007-2008)
Suicide rate lowest since 1985 (2005)
Key findings of the 2001 suicide statistics (2001)
Youth suicide figures declining (2000)
More News coverage and comment (1999-2003)

Suicide statistics 1999   Suicide statistics for 2000.   Youth Suicide Figures for 2001
Suicide Trends in New Zealand 1978-98. See: www.nzhis.govt.nz/publications/suicide78-98.pdf

Suicide statistics 2006. Pointers to Ministry of Health or internal documents

Suicide statistics ‘stable’
Maori levels a concern

While associate health minister Jim Anderton, says the suicide situation over recent years, based on statistics released in November 2007,  has  “remained stable” although the latest two year old figures were slightly higher than those for 2004.

And the number of Maori ending their lives prematurely has continued to increase at a higher rate than the national average; 17.9 percent as compared to 13.2 percent. The number of hospitalisations for self harm across all New Zealanders also showed a significant increase, with more young women admitted than males.

Between 2003-2005 a rate of 13.2 people in every 100,000 died by suicide compared to13.1 deaths per 100,000 people in 2002-2004, a decrease of about 19 percent from the peak of 16.3 deaths per 100,000 in 1996-1998.

Releasing the statistics at the 5th National Suicide Prevention Symposium in Wellington, Anderton said while the number of deaths by suicide had dropped since the peak of the late 1990s there was no room for complacency. “Any suicide remains a serious concern and is a tragedy for family and friends. In 2005, 502 people died by suicide. Those who had particularly high rates were those aged between 15 and 44, along with Mâori and those living in the most deprived areas of New Zealand. Men also had higher rates than women – for every three male suicides there was one female suicide’’.

Suicide Facts: 2005-2006 data shows that the rate of suicide is higher for Mâori (17.9 per 100,000) than non-Mâori (12.0 per 100,000), a disparity that had increased over the past nine years.  While the number was down for 2005 the over rate showed a 5.2 percent increase from 2002-2004 to 2003-2005.

The number of hospitalisations for intentional self harm had also increased. In 2006 there were 5400 hospitalisations (151.7 hospitalisations per 100,000 people), a 7.5 percent increase on the previous year when there were 4992 hospitalisations.

 “What we do know is more females are admitted to hospital for self-harm than males – in 2006 there were two females admitted for every male. Mâori are nearly 1.5 times more likely to be admitted than non-Mâori and those who self-harm tend to be aged between 15 and 24,’’ said Anderton.


Misconceptions a concern

Excerpts from Mental Health Foundation Newsletter 1997 - 2008

Suicide Prevention Information New Zealand (SPINZ) director Merryn Statham, in an interview in the Mental Health Foundation Summer 2007-2008 newsletter Mindsets, said there are a couple of misconceptions around suicide and suicide prevention. 

  1. The first is that suicide is the one final act of self-destruction. Suicide is a very complex issue and is most often the culmination of a long pathway of experiences, situations and distress. Therefore there are opportunities all along this pathway to reduce the risk of suicide. Research has identified common risk factors that contribute to suicide. Knowing what these risk factors are and recognising and responding appropriately to warning signs can help to reduce suicide and suicide attempts.
  2. The other common misconception is that suicide can be treated in the same way as many other public health issues and would be reduced through high profile awareness raising activities. This can be problematic in that well meaning people can promote and lobby for overly simplistic suicide prevention approaches. 'Should we talk about suicide?' has become a distraction from the real question - 'How should we talk about suicide?'

For the individual who feeling suicidal she said, it is very important they talk to someone who can help them. The same goes for those who are feeling bereaved became of the suicide of someone close to them. It helps to talk about that experience with others who have shared it and hear how others have learned to live with this loss. However, she says, the risks of discussing suicide in large groups of people, where there is no way of knowing how vulnerable individual audience members may be, are well documented. She claims those having regular thoughts of suicide, could be placed at increased risk through the idea that taking your life is a common and appropriate response to extreme distress. This is called 'normalising' and is something that is not well understood by those advocating for broad based awareness raising activities.

Statham says it important for people to know that most suicides are preventable. The work of SPINZ in providing targeted suicide prevention information to a wide variety of audiences across is important. The organisation helps link people, agencies and relevant information together, for a more cohesive and supported approach to this work.

“For those who work with people at risk of suicide, having information that identifies the agreed best practice standards is crucial. it is important those who provide funding for suicide prevention programmes have information to know they are funding something that is proven to be effective. And she says, it is important those who are caring for some one who has made a suicide attempt, to have information about how best to do that.”

Who’s working on it?

Currently there eight central government agencies with a responsibility to address suicide prevention: the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Social Development,New Zealand Police, Accident Compensation Commission, The Department of Corrections, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Education, Department of Internal Affairs.

 Te Puni Kokiri, the Ministry of Youth Development, Ministry of Women's Affairs, Pacific Island Affairs and Child Youth and Family Services also contribute under these umbrella ministries.

Suicide Prevention Strategy 2006 - 2016

Goal one: Promote mental health and wellbeing and prevent mental health problems.
Goal two: Improve the care of people who are experiencing mental disorders associated with suicidal behaviour.
Goal three: Improve the care of people who make non-fatal suicide attempts.
Goal four: Reduce access to means of suicide.
Goal five: Promote the safe reporting and portrayal of suicidal behaviour b the media.
Goal six: Support families/whanau, friend and others affected by a suicide of suicide attempt.
Goal seven: Expand the evidence about rates, causes and effective interventions.


UNICEF report an indictment

The UNICEF report, Overview of Child Well-being in Rich Countries (February 2007), paints a grim picture rating New Zealand as last out of 25 OECD countries in its record for keeping children safe, with the third highest child homicide rate for children aged up to 14.  The country was also bottom of the ranking for deaths from accidents and injuries per 100,000 under-19-year-olds.

 “The fact is that substantiated child abuse cases have more than doubled since 2000 – from 6000 to 13,000 last year.  In addition to that, Child, Youth and Family expect over 70,000 notifications this year, up from 28,000 in 1999-00,” said National Party Welfare spokesperson Judith Collins.  “These figures are a disgrace and show New Zealand up in a dim light…”

New Zealand appeared in the bottom third of the OECD in several other areas, including: Overall health and safety of children, health at age one and rates of immunization, percentage of teenagers in full or part-time education (worst ranking), teenage pregnancies (24th), Children living in a family without a working parent or in a household earning less than half the median wage (18th). Sharing a main meal with the family several times a week (24th), Children whose parents spend time talking to them several times a week (17th).

The six factors that measured the well-being of children in the report were material well-being, health and safety, education, peer and family relationships, behaviour and risks, and young people's subjective sense of well-being.

The report covered countries ranging from wealthy nations such as the United States to economically poorer industrialised countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic.

Child advocates say that while New Zealand's poor international reputation for child welfare, particularly child deaths, is nothing new, the latest report is a damning indictment of the country's disregard for children's safety and well-being.

Unicef New Zealand advocacy manager David Kenkel said the report raised a huge question mark over why this country consistently ranked so poorly.

"There are countries out there with far fewer resources than us but they are doing much better than we are," he said.

He hoped the latest upsetting statistics would cause the Government, as well as New Zealanders, to examine their attitude and behaviour towards children. "There's a great gap between the myth of the Kiwi childhood and the reality."

Sources: Shocking teen-death rate, Kim Thomas, The Press, 15 February, 2007, NZPA



Teen suicides 'a community tragedy'
Kerri Welham, Dominion Post, 10 Feb 2007

Statistics released by the Wellington Coroner's office show young people are taking their lives at increasingly earlier ages. Inquests included the unrelated but apparently self-inflicted deaths of four girls aged between 13 and 15 years and a 16-year-old boy in December.

Every death without known cause, unnatural, due to suicide or violence must be reported to police, who investigate the causes and circumstances and report to the coroner.  In his Wellington Coroner Garry Evans said the increasingly younger age at which some young people were taking their lives was a matter of real concern to the community.

"It is at once a community tragedy and a community problem. It is important that the community knows what is going on."  There were 33 apparent suicides in the Wellington district in 2006. Porirua accounted for 13 of the deaths. District-wide, the highest number of deaths were in the under-25 age group. Of the 12 women who apparently took their lives, four were aged 15 or under.

There were 199 suicides in the Wellington district from 2001 to 2005. The coroner's data shows a substantial drop in the suicide rate in the past two years. Initially, rates rose slowly from 41 per annum in 2001 to 46 in 2004. Then in 2005, the number of suicide deaths plummeted to 27, before rising to 33 apparent suicides in 2006.

It was important that young people with drug, social, personality or mental health problems (especially depression) be seen by their family GPs as soon as possible. Dr Davis said anti-depressant medication was now more effective, which might explain the lower rates of suicide.

 'Hush-hush' suicide reporting doesn't work

Dominion Post, 07 June 2006

Napier coroner Warwick Holmes wants restrictions lifted on the reporting of suicide, to help address New Zealand's "world record rate of self-inflicted deaths".  He called for the change during a hearing in which four inquests out of the six he presided over were related to self-inflicted deaths.

The "hush-hush" approach to reporting suicide was not working, he said. "We hold a world record for the amount of self-inflicted harm done by males between the ages of 15 and 24." he said. "We have a genuine problem in New Zealand and the more attention brought to it will help address this problem."

Parliament's justice and electoral select committee has rejected calls to lift restrictions on what news media can report. Fears have been raised from education and mental health officials that publicity about suicide causes copycat deaths.

But Holmes believes restrictions on reporting were not working. "We've got legislation saying `Don't talk about it' and, from my position, I have a problem believing the legislation is doing anything to solve the problem…There is no doubt the problem is chronic. Coroners around the countryside are dealing with this on an almost-daily basis. On the one hand we hush it all up but all we do is create a dilemma.”

What troubles Holmes is the lack of progress being made with the amount of self-inflicted deaths of young men.

 Suicide rate lowest since 1985

Haydon Dewes, Dominion Post, 07 April 2005

In 2005 it was reported that New Zealand suicide rates had dropped the lowest rate since 1985 but were still among the leading causes of death among young people, eclipsing even the road toll.

The figures for 2002 released in April 2005 sowed that 460 people died by suicide, compared with 405 who died on the roads that year. The number of suicides compared with 507 in 2001 and 458 in 2000.

Associate Health Minister Jim Anderton was placing his hope in reducing the numbers an all-age suicide strategy to replace the current focus on youth suicide. The suicide rate for males, 16.6 per 100,000 people, was more than three times the rate for females, mostly because males chose more "direct" suicide methods. Women were twice as likely to survive a suicide attempt.

New Zealand's overall suicide rate of 10.7 per 100,000 people was the sixth highest among OECD countries with comparable data. New Zealand had a far higher suicide rate for females aged 15 to 24, at 11 per 100,000, than those other OECD countries.

Mr Anderton, whose daughter Philippa killed herself in 1993, lamented the time it took for the figures to come to light, but hoped a review of the Coroners Act and the development of an online database for coroners, doctors and police to enable data to be captured immediately would quicken the process.

Suicide Prevention Information New Zealand co-director Merryn Statham said broadening the prevention focus away from youths was welcome. The youth focus had created an inflated perception of youth suicides, which had the harmful effect of "normalising" suicide among youth.

Meanwhile, the media have come under fire for ignoring guidelines on reporting suicides.

A report by Jim Tully and Nadia Elsaka of Canterbury University's school of political science and communications, said media bosses strongly oppose restrictions on reporting suicides and the news media largely ignore Health Ministry guidelines designed to prevent copycat behaviour.

It suggested there was a need for consultation to create new guidelines suitable to everyone. Anderton however believed media generally did a good job, but called on journalists to use integrity. He referred to the suicide of Crowded House drummer Paul Hester in Melbourne after which some media reported details of how he killed himself.

"I believe the issue of prevention of suicide copycat behaviour is important enough to maintain a very vigorous approach to reporting suicide."

Suicides down but still concern 25-04-02  

Suicides are declining but the rate is still too high, says the Ministry of Health.

 Provisional 1999 suicide statistics for all ages released in April 2002, show 514 people died by suicide in 1999 compared with 577 in 1998 and 561 in 1997. The 1999 total is the lowest since 1994 (512), ministry spokeswoman Maria cotter said.

 “It’s encouraging to know these rates can come down but the figures are still too high,” she said.

“Every suicide is a personal tragedy and devastates family and friends, colleagues and communities.”

 Suicide deaths have reduced among both Maori and non-Maori. The overall rate of suicide among Maori was the same as for non-Maori in 1999. But youth suicide rates are still significantly higher among Maori than non-Maori she said. Ms Cotter said preventing suicide was a priority under the New Zealand health strategy. 

She said the Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy worked to reduce youth suicide with a specific focus on preventing suicide among Maori youth. This strategy launched in 1968 is now led by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and involves a number of government agencies. 

– NZPA (25-04-02)


Key findings of the 2001 suicide statistics:

  • The total number of suicides for 2001 was 499, up from 458 in 2000 but down from 516 in 1999 and 577 in 1998.
  • Males continued to have a higher suicide death rate than females in 2001, with a rate of 18.3 compared to 5.5 per 100,000 population. Between 2000 and 2001 the suicide rate decreased for males (18.7 to 18.3 per 100,000 population) and increased for females (4.0 to 5.5 per 100,000 population).
  • The total rate of youth suicide (15-24 years) increased with 20.0 deaths per 100,000 population in 2001 compared with 18.1 per 100,000 population in 2000.
  • In 2001 the all-ages sex ratio for suicide was 3.3 male suicides to every female suicide. The youth suicide (15-24 years) was 3.7 male suicides to every female suicide.
  • New Zealand has the highest male youth suicide rate (15-24 years) and second highest female youth suicide rate compared to other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.
  • Mäori continue to have a higher suicide rate than non- Mäori. The 2001 suicide rates for Mäori males and females (20.7 and 6.8 per 100,000 population) were higher than for non-Mäori males and females (17.7 and 4.9 per 100,000 population).
  • Youth (15-24 years) have a much higher rate of hospitalisation rate for intentional self-harm in 2002 (186.5 cases per 100,000) than the total population (85.5 cases).

More females are hospitalised for self-inflicted harm than males with a ratio in 2001 of 2.1 female hospitalisations to every male hospitalisation.

How many people died by suicide in 2001?

  • A total of 499 people died by suicide, compared with 458 in 2000 and 516 in 1999.
  • In 2001, 382 males died by suicide, compared with 375 in 2000 and 385 in 1999.
  • In 2001, 117 females died by suicide, compared with 83 in 2000 and 131 in 1999.

Suicides by age group

  • In 2001, people aged 20–24 years had the highest age-specific suicide rate (25.3 deaths per 100,000 population) followed by people aged 25–29 years (21.7 deaths per 100,000 population) and people aged 30–34 years (21.2 deaths per 100,000 population).
  • Among males, those aged 20–24 years had the highest age-specific suicide rate (42.8 deaths per 100,000 population) followed by those aged 30–34 years (35.8 deaths per 100,000 population) and those aged 40–44 years (34.4 deaths per 100,000 population).
  • Among females, 80–84-year-olds (15.3 per 100,000), 25–29-year-olds (12.8 per 100,000 population) and 15–19-year-olds (9.5 per 100,000 population) had the highest rates (Figure 3).

Figure 3 (below): Suicide rates by age group and sex, 2001. (Source: NZHIS)
Note: The high suicide rates in the older age groups are influenced by the smaller population sizes in those age groups. Therefore, relatively smaller numbers of suicide deaths produce higher suicide death rates than in some of the younger age groups.


Provisional Youth Suicide Figures for 2000 (as at May 2003)

Date of publication: May 2003

Key Points

  • In 2000, the total number of suicides was 458, down from 516 in 1999 and 577 in 1998. This is the lowest total number since 1986 (414) and the lowest rate since 1985.
  • Total suicide deaths have reduced among both males and females in the last two years. In 2000, the female rate was the lowest since 1961.
  • In 2000, both the 45-64 year age group and the 65 and over age group recorded the lowest rates since 1948.
  • In 2000, a total of 96 young people aged 15-24 years died by suicide, compared with 120 in 1999 and 140 in 1998. Young people still have high rates of suicide but the highest rate is now in the 25-29 year age group.
  • Suicide deaths have reduced in non-Mäori, but have remained almost the same in Maori. In 2000, the rate of suicide in Maori was 13.1 per 100,000 compared with 10.7 per 100,000 in non-Maori.
  • The hospitalisation rate for intentional self-harm in 2000/2001 was 129.2 per 100,000.
  • The definition of intentional self-harm has been extended to include cases not previously included so should not be directly compared with previous years. Youth (15-24 years) had the highest hospitalisation rates in 2000/2001 (282.4 per 100,000).
  • There is some variation in regional suicide rates for the total population but no pattern.
  • The New Zealand Health Strategy has identified reducing suicide and suicide attempt across all ages as a priority health objective.
  • Suicide prevention requires a range of interventions across a number of settings and the co-operation of Government, service providers, communities and families.
More detailled report as at May 2003

Youth suicide figures declining (2000)

15 October 2002

Jim Anderton, Associate Minister of Health today released the youth suicide figures for the year 2000. The latest figures are the lowest since 1986 for both the number and rate of suicide amongst young people.

"The recent decline in youth suicide rates is very encouraging. It suggests that the New Zealand Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy and the wide range of initiatives that are part of the Strategy are having a positive effect. Sadly though, there is still no cause for complacency or celebration because 96 young people still took their lives that year," said Jim Anderton.

Youth suicide is a complex issue and is caused by a range of factors so it is difficult to precisely determine the effectiveness of youth suicide initiatives.

"Although we cannot yet claim with total confidence that the New Zealand Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy, released in 1998, has been effective, the signs are positive that it is making a difference. The decline in numbers is definitely significant," Jim Anderton said.

The Strategy, led by the Ministry of Youth Affairs involves a wide range of actions aimed at reducing youth suicide, with a specific focus on addressing suicide among taitamariki (Maori youth). Many of the initiatives focus on the total population, not just young people.

Debbie Edwards, National Co-ordinator - Youth Suicide Prevention, Youth Affairs, said, "The work involves several Government agencies implementing initiatives across a range of sectors, and dozens of community organisations and services.

"There has been a lot of effort and resource put into preventing youth suicide by the government and we are starting to see some really encouraging results."

The range of government initiatives focus on things like supporting the healthy development of young people, providing additional support for young people who are at risk (like mental health services), supporting Maori development, and providing better information for young people, families and people who work with young people.

Ms Edwards said, "The research shows that about 90 per cent of young people who die by suicide have some kind of mental illness, such as depression or have substance abuse problems. In New Zealand, we’ve now got more and better mental health services for young people than we used to have – the number of staff working full-time in child and youth mental health services grew from 350 to 679 between 1988 and 2001. This is a great improvement, and has probably contributed to the decline, but we need to keep up the momentum towards higher quality mental health and drug abuse services."

In the year 2000 the total number of suicides among New Zealanders aged 15-24 years was 96 (18.1 per 100,000 young people), down from 120 in 1999 and 140 in 1998. This is the lowest total number and rate since 1986 when there were 91 suicides (15.6 per 100,000 young people).

The 2000 statistics show a large drop in the number of female suicide deaths: 15 (5.8 per 100,000) in 2000 which is down from 37 (14.2 per 100 000) in 1999. Male suicide deaths and rates have unfortunately changed little between 1999 and 2000. In 2000 there were 81 deaths (29.9 per 100,000), down slightly from 83 (30.6 per 100,000) in 1999.

Youth suicide deaths have reduced among both Mäori and Non-Mäori females. The Mäori female rate was 7.4 per 100,000, down from 18.7 in 1999, while the Non-Mäori female rate was 5.4, down from 13.1 in 1999.

In 2000, the rate of suicide among Mäori was 25.7 per 100 000, and 16.2 per 100,000 in non-Mäori. Young males continue to experience a high rate of suicide with a Mäori rate of 43.5 in 2000 (42.4 in 1999), and a Non-Mäori rate of 26.4 in 2000 (27.7 in 1999).

"Every suicide is traumatic with far-reaching effects. While the decrease in suicide is good news, we must all try to create an environment where young people feel valued and supported, and where they can get help when they need it.

"Suicide is not only an issue for Youth Affairs and the health system, it's an issue for New Zealand society. Although there is no one cause and no single way to address the issue, Government and the community need to continue working together to further reduce the incidence," said Jim Anderton.

Ms Edwards agrees. "Youth Affairs is committed to furthering youth suicide prevention work across the government, and to working alongside community groups to ensure their initiatives are safe, effective and evidence-based."

Media Enquiries:
Debbie Edwards, National Co-ordinator – Youth Suicide Prevention
Ministry of Youth Affairs, 04 914 4863, 025 226 7547

Sam Fisher [Anderton press secretary] 021 714 209, 04 471 9289

Further information

Note: Youth (15-24 years) statistics are finalised earlier than total (all age) suicide figures. All age suicide figures will be available for the year 2000 by April 2003.

2000 youth suicide statistics: http://www.nzhis.govt.nz/stats/youthsuicide.html

Questions and answers on youth suicide: http://www.youthaffairs.govt.nz/pag.cfm?i=184

Suicide Prevention Information New Zealand (SPINZ) www.spinz.org.nz  Phone: 09 638 7364 or 03 366 6910

Suicide and the Media - The reporting and portrayal of suicide in the media - a resource: http://www.moh.govt.nz/moh  (go to Publications). You can also get a copy by phoning (04) 4962277 or emailing moh@wickliffe.co.nz

Stocktake of government initiatives which support the New Zealand Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy. www.youthaffairs.govt.nz

Independent Spokespeople

Dr Sunny Collings
Project Leader - Research to examine wider socio-economic explanations for New Zealand's suicide rate and trends
Public Health Consultancy, Wellington School of Medicine and Health Sciences
phone: 04 973 4333

Dr Peter Watson
Director of SPINZ (Suicide Prevention Information New Zealand), Adolescent Paediatrician and Director of Centre for Youth Health, South Auckland. Phone: 03 326 4822

Dr Simon Hatcher
Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist
North Shore Hospital, Auckland
Phone: 09 486 1491 ext.2526
Mobile: 0274 979 105

Materoa Mar,
Kaiwhakahaere - Clinical Leader
Te Whare Marie|
 (Regional Adolescent/Rangatahi Inpatient Mental Health Unit)
Porirua, Capital and Coast Health
Phone: 04 918 2368
Mobile: 027 274 7590

Keri Lawson-Te Aho
Phone 04 298 6980
Mobile: 025 207 1955

When Your Head Spins: What can I do?  Back to Front
EMERGENCY BUTTON ( Numbers to call )