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NZ suicide toll: More discussion needed to bring down 'unacceptably high' rate, Chief Coroner says

New Zealand's suicide rate remains alarmingly high. A total of 579 Kiwis took their own lives in the 2016 financial year.

Men aged between 25 and 29, and women aged between 40 and 44, are the most at-risk when it comes to suicide, new figures show.

The female suicide rate is the highest on record, with 170 women dying by suicide during the past year.

While more men die by suicide in New Zealand, the gap between the genders is the smallest it's been.

The gap between the number of men who died by suicide and the number of women is the smallest it's ever been. A total of 170 females took their own lives during the past year.

Once again, New Zealand's suicide toll is the worst it's been since the Coroner's Office began keeping records in 2008.

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During the 2016 financial year (July 2015 to June 2016), 579 Kiwis took their own lives - compared to 564 during the previous year.

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Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall says New Zealand had a long way to go in turning its "unacceptably high" total around.

While the number of people to die by suicide was at an all-time high, the rate of suicide per 100,000 people was slightly below the rate in 2011.

In 2016, the rate of people who took their own lives hit 12.33 for every 100,000 Kiwis, compared to 12.65 in 2011.

Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall said the rate of people dying by suicide remained consistent and showed New Zealand had a long way to go in turning this "unacceptably high" total around.

409 men died by suicide in NZ during the past year. Those most at risk were aged 25-29.

There needed to be more discussion about suicide prevention and how family, friends and colleagues could identify someone at risk and help them get professional support.

"Everyone should recognise the importance of taking suicidal thoughts seriously and knowing where to get help," Marshall said.

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson said he was "deeply saddened" by the figures.

"We send our deepest condolences to the families, whanau, colleagues and friends who have lost someone they loved to suicide...

"It's not uncommon for people who feel suicidal to believe their loved ones would be happier without them, that they are a burden to their families. Today it's important to acknowledge that this is profoundly untrue."

While the numbers were distressing, it was important to remember suicide was preventable, Robinson said.

GENDER

Historically, more men than women die by suicide in New Zealand.

While this remains the case, the gap between the genders was the smallest it's been since records began.

During the 2016 financial year, 170 women died by suicide compared to 409 men - putting the ratio at 1 woman to every 2.41 men. Traditionally the ratio sits about 1 female to 3 males.

AGE

The 25-29 age bracket recorded the highest number of suicide deaths at 66, during the 2016 financial year. While, the 20-24 bracket had 60 suicide deaths.

Last year the 20-24-year-old age bracket had the highest number of suicide deaths with 61, followed by the 40-44- year-old cohort (58).

However, the most at-risk age brackets varied greatly when males and females were looked at separately.

Females were most at-risk if they fell in to the 40-44 age bracket, with 20 women in this cohort dying by suicide (12.69 per 100,000), according to the 2016 figures.

Meanwhile, the age bracket with the highest suicide rate for men was the 25-29 bracket (54 deaths or 31.8 per 100,000).

The figures come as a new OECD report shows New Zealand has the highest rate of teen suicide in the developed world.

While the report holds alarming figures, it's nothing new. New Zealand continuously ranks among the worst in the world for our levels of teen suicide.

In 2016, 59 Kiwis aged 10-19 died by suicide, according to the Coroner's figures.

ETHNICITY

Maori suicide rates remain higher than any other ethnicity in the country.

However, the number of Maori suicide deaths dropped marginally from 130 in 2015 to 129 in 2016.

Within this total, Maori male suicides have dropped by 10 from the previous year to 83.

Meanwhile, nine more Maori females died by suicide during 2016, bringing the toll to 46 - the highest on record.

REGION

The Canterbury Region has recorded its highest suicide total since records began in 2008, with 78 deaths.

Previously, the highest toll for the Canterbury region came during 2010, when 74 died by suicide.

The figures, which are based on DHB geographic regions (not police districts), show 55 people died by suicide in Waikato, 50 in Auckland, 49 in Waitemata and 48 in Counties Manukau.

EMPLOYMENT

In 2016, 252 employed people died by suicide - up from 246 the previous year.

Meanwhile, 146 unemployed people took their own lives, followed by 70 retirees or pensioners, and 55 students.

METHOD

Methods of suicide included hanging, strangulation and suffocation (338), poisoning or overdose (82), poisoning by gases or vapours (47), firearms and explosives (30), and jumping from a high place (28).

HOW CAN WE FIX THIS?

One Tuesday, the Green Party reiterated its calls for a national mental health inquiry.

Green party health spokeswoman Julie Anne Genter said mental health services, both at community level and in acute crisis management, were "chronically underfunded".

More funds and resources needed to be put into preventing suicides across the country, she said, adding that the party would like to see the re-establishment of the Mental Health Commission.

The government was willing to spend huge amounts on stopping transport and road deaths; they should be doing the same when it came to suicide prevention, Genter said.

MHF chief executive Shaun Robinson says there are many things that can contribute to people feeling suicidal, including experiencing depression and mental health problems, poverty, family violence, abusing substances such as drugs or alcohol and not being able to access support to cope with distress.

"To prevent suicide in New Zealand, we must take a hard look at these factors and work to address them," Robinson said.

He urged the government to take a hard look at its suicide prevention strategy to ensure it was comprehensive and had a measurable impact on preventing suicide.

New Zealand needed to build a social movement where people felt confident to have "courageous conversations" about what's going on for them, he said, adding that loved ones needed to listen and support without judging.

Meanwhile, New Zealand Association of Counsellors spokesperson and school guidance counsellor Sarah Maindonald said she would like to see more counsellors in schools, in an effort to bring down the teen suicide rate.

These figures released by the Coroner's Office relate to provisional suicide figures and differ slightly from the Ministry of Health figures. 

They include active cases before coroners where intent has not yet been established, therefore may eventually be found not to be suicides.

Ministry of Health figures are also recorded by calendar year, while the Coroner's Office figures are based on financial years.

WHERE TO GET HELP

Lifeline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 354

Depression Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 111 757

Healthline (open 24/7) - 0800 611 116

Samaritans (open 24/7) - 0800 726 666

Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) - 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Youthline (open 24/7) - 0800 376 633. You can also text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email talk@youthline.co.nz

0800 WHATSUP children's helpline - phone 0800 9428 787 between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at www.whatsup.co.nz.

Kidsline (open 24/7) - 0800 543 754. This service is for children aged 5 to 18. Those who ring between 4pm and 9pm on weekdays will speak to a Kidsline buddy. These are specially trained teenage telephone counsellors.

Your local Rural Support Trust - 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)

Alcohol Drug Helpline (open 24/7) - 0800 787 797. You can also text 8691 for free.

For further information, contact the Mental Health Foundation's free Resource and Information Service (09 623 4812).

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