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SuMRC response to Chief Coroner’s release of provisional suicide statistics

Suicide Mortality Review Committee
21 August 2020

The Suicide Mortality Review Committee (SuMRC) welcomes the Chief Coroner’s annual report on provisional suicide statistics released today. The figures suggest an overall decrease in deaths by suicide in Aotearoa.

'We need to first acknowledge the people behind the numbers, those who have died by suicide and recognise the pain and hurt of family, friends and whānau bereaved by suicide,' says SuMRC chair Dr Sarah Fortune.

SuMRC is an independent committee that reviews suicide in Aotearoa New Zealand and advises the Health Quality & Safety Commission and Government on how to reduce these deaths.

Dr Fortune says the data continue to highlight the undue burden of suicide carried by Māori communities and the need to address the structural drivers of suicide including the effects of colonisation and loss of land, with associated poverty and discrimination.[1]

'We also note with concern that the rate of suicide for Asian people increased 5.1 to 7.9 per 100,000 people, this indicates attention should be given to culturally responsive prevention strategies for this group. The SuMRC is building on earlier work to further identify the unique drivers, and protective approaches, to supporting Asian communities.'[2]

The data by the Office of the Chief Coroner show that 654 people were provisionally notified as having died by suicide in the year July 2019 to June 2020, which equates to a rate of 13 deaths per 100,000 people, a decrease from both the 2017/18 and 2018/19 years.

Dr Fortune welcomes the lower numbers reported this year and commends the multisectoral collaboration outlined in the national suicide prevention strategy, which she says will be critical to sustaining ongoing reductions in suicide in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

She cautions against comparing regions’ deaths.

'Due to the relatively small size of our country, and how the population is distributed within regions, it is difficult to compare deaths between districts, particularly given the way the borders of those regions may be defined.'

She says, while there has been an overall decrease in the suicide rate for Māori, the long-term inequity in suicide rates remains very apparent.

'This demonstrates that the structural drivers of inequity for Māori still need addressing – particularly poverty and discrimination.'

SuMRC welcomes the extra support given to respond to service demand, and the investments being made in mental health and wellbeing. However, Dr Fortune says suicide remains a complex public health problem with no simplistic solution.

'It requires the combined effort of individuals, communities and government. This is an unusual and challenging time for all of us. We must build on what good work has been done and continue to create an environment that protects and nurtures people, promotes and enables community resilience.'


Safe practices by media

While most people are resilient to traumatic events, speculation in the media about suicide deaths, which is not evidence-based, can be harmful to the public. Evidence shows that those who have attempted suicide in the past or have thought about it, and those family who are bereaved by suicide of a family member, are at heightened risk of suicide themselves and are vulnerable to negative media reporting.

There is no evidence in New Zealand to support the speculation here and overseas that COVID-19 ‘caused’ additional deaths by suicide.

Because some individuals may be more vulnerable at the moment, it is critically important that reporting of events and public dialogue does not circulate unsubstantiated information and data without context.

Protecting and nurturing

New Zealand is fortunate in being relatively less affected by the global pandemic than others, therefore it may be expected that other countries see a different impact on people’s mental health, it should not be assumed that we will suffer to the same degree.

It will nonetheless become increasingly important to actively support community and individual mental wellbeing.

Events have already prompted a number of agencies to respond to increases in help-seeking from helplines, refuges and food banks.

We have seen a large and rapid mobilisation of agencies supporting communities during the lock downs and subsequent challenging times. Enhanced social cohesion, social support and a stronger sense of community will provide a buffer against any discrimination and racial harassment (Bécares, et al. 2013).

Māori leadership during the pandemic has ensured action has been taken quickly to provide households with care packages, supporting health care provision and promoting social connectivity.

For help

If you or someone you know need immediate help, please call:

  • Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 (mental health, depression, and anxiety counselling)
  • Lifeline: 0800 543 354
  • Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 | 0508 TAUTOKO; 12 noon to 12 midnight (those in distress, or who are concerned about the wellbeing of someone else).
  • Asian Family Services: 0800 862 342
  • Aunty Dee free online tool for working through problems
  • National Māori Suicide Prevention Centre
  1. Health Quality & Safety Commission. 2020. Te Mauri The Life Force | Rangatahi suicide report | Te pūrongo mō te mate whakamomori o te rangatahi.
  2. Health Quality & Safety Commission. 2019. Understanding deaths by suicide in the Asian population of Aotearoa New Zealand | Te whakamārama i ngā mate whakamomori i te taupori Āhia i Aotearoa.
  3. Bécares L, Cormack D, Harris R. 2013. Ethnic density and area deprivation: neighbourhood effects on Māori health and racial discrimination in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Social Science Medicine 88: 76–82. DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2013.04.007

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