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SUICIDE RATES: Understanding the sad reality


Story by Soumya Bhamidipati

New data has shown Wairarapa may have had the fourth-highest rate of suicide in New Zealand last year.

The latest suicide statistics, published annually by the Chief Coroner, were out on Monday, showing Wairarapa had eight provisional suspected self-inflicted deaths in 2020.

The provisional data, which included active coronial cases, showed a slight increase on the seven suspected suicides in 2019. In 2018, the region had four suspected and five confirmed suicides.

A death could be confirmed as a suicide when a coroner investigated the circumstances and found the person who died intended to take their own life.

While the rates of suspected suicides per population were published for most District Health Boards, the rates at the five smallest DHB populations, including Wairarapa, were not published by the Office of the Chief Coroner.

“The suicide rates for the Wairarapa District Health Board are not reliable because they are based on very small numbers.

“The rates are therefore not displayed here [numbers are still viewable],” the data, published by the Ministry of Health, said.

While the number of suicide deaths was the number of people who were confirmed or suspected to have died by suicide, the rate of suicide deaths was the number of people who had died by suicide relative to the population in the area.

Suicide rates were typically reported per 100,000 people in the population.

The Times-Age calculated the rate of suspected suicides using the provided population numbers. This showed Wairarapa to have a rate of about 16 suspected suicides per 100,000 people last year, the fourth-highest rate in New Zealand.

The rate was also higher than the national rate of suspected suicide deaths last year, which sat at 11.3 per 100,000 people. Close to 600 people [591] nationwide were suspected of having died of suicide last year.

When examined by gender, males suspected to have died by suicide last year [444] significantly outnumbered females [147], as had been the case for the past decade.

While rates of suspected suicides for Maori, Pacific, and other populations [including New Zealand European} decreased last year, the rates increased for Asians.

Despite this, Maori populations still showed the highest rates of suspected suicide per 100,000.

When viewed by the financial year [instead of the calendar year], the data showed a decrease in suspected suicide numbers, both nationally and in Wairarapa.

Wairarapa numbers for the 2020/21 period showed three suspected suicides, preceded by six in 2019/20, and eight in 2018/19.

Chief Coroner Judge Deborah Marshall said in the year to June 30, 2021, 607 people died by suspected suicide nationally, compared with 628 the year before – a decrease of 21 deaths, and a drop in the suspected suicide rate from 11.8 deaths per 100,000 to 11.6.

“Understanding what a change in numbers and rates from one year to the next means is difficult because these numbers and rates can fluctuate considerably,” Judge Marshall said.

“The suspected suicide rate and number has declined, which is encouraging. But it’s important to remember the many families who have lost someone, and I offer my sincere condolences to the families and friends of those who died by suspected suicide in the past year.”

Although the numbers had decreased over two consecutive financial years, Suicide Prevention Office director Carla na Nagara said it would take more time to establish a statistical trend.

“While it is encouraging that the numbers of suspected suicides are lower than last year, there are still far too many whanau, families and communities who have lost loved ones, and I extend my deepest sympathies to them,” na Nagara said.

Evidence showed a decline over at least five years was needed before a meaningful downward trend in suicide numbers and rates could be established, she said.

“The Suicide Prevention Office will continue its efforts, alongside the Chief Coroner and communities all around Aotearoa, to address the complex issues that contribute to our suicide rates.

“We all have a part to play to prevent similar deaths from occurring.”

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