27 Aug 2011

Chief Coroner demands new approach to reduce suicide rates

12:38 pm on 27 August 2011

The Chief Coroner says new solutions need to be found to bring down the suicide rate.

The latest suicide figures, covering the four years to the end of June, show the number of people committing suicide has increased from 540 in 2007/2008 to 558 in 2010/2011.

The highest number of suicide deaths occurred in the 20-24 age group for men and the 50-54 age group for women.

Judge Neil MacLean says the numbers show what was done in the past isn't working and new ideas need to be sought.

"I'm concerned simply as a citizen of this country that our suicide rates are staying stubbornly the same. You could say it's good that it's not going up with all the turmoil and confusion that's going on, but it's worrying that it's not going down," he said.

Prime Minister John Key says the rates are deeply concerning.

Mr Key says he is also concerned about youth suicide, with New Zealand having the highest per capita rate in the developed world for females, and the third highest for males.

"I wonder whether they're getting the help they need fast enough. A lot of young people go through suicidal tendencies but obviously only a relatively small group actually take their own lives - so it's making sure we reach out very quickly."

Mr Key says a second-term National government would do some intensive work on suicide rates, with the aim of bringing them down.

The figures also show that Maori still have the highest rate of suicide by ethnic group.

The rate for Maori is 17.8 per 100,000 people, compared with 13.5 for European and other groups.

A co-ordinator with the Maori suicide prevention programme, Kia Piki Te Ora, Michael Naera, says it's important kaumatua talk openly about suicide, despite concerns those conversations could encourage copycat behaviour.

Mr Naera says every iwi or hapu also needs to make sure they have strategies in place to address broader issues such as drug and alcohol use and sexual abuse.

In a ray of light among the bleak statistics, the number of people committing suicide in Christchurch has decreased and has stayed low since the February earthquake.

The general manager of Lower Hutt youth organisation Vibe, Bobby Brian, a shift in attitude, and educating people about the negative impacts of suicide, could help lower the number of deaths.