New Zealand’s Suicides May be Under Reported by 300%

suicide in NZ

Fiddling around with the statistics won’t stop New Zealand’s awful suicide problem

Today we have the shocking news that suicides may be accurately recorded in New Zealand, and the true figure may be three times higher than the official statistics. The revelation comes at a time when the government has been cutting back on mental health services, and homelessness and child poverty has sky rocketed in New Zealand.

Even though suspected suicides are being recorded as ‘open verdicts’ (despite the deceased person sometimes leaving a suicide note) the suicide rate is still climbing in New Zealand, which already has one of the highest rates of youth suicide in the developed world.

The most recent statistics put New Zealand’s suicide rate at about 11 people a week, almost 570 in a full year.

But Timaru GP Dr Oliver Bourke told Fairfax Media coroners won’t rule a death as suicide unless it’s very clear the person intended taking their own life. Dr Bourke said deaths will be classified in a different category, such as an accident, or the cause will go down as undetermined – what’s known as an “open verdict”…NZ Herald

Dr Bourke said because the threshold ruling a death was a suicide was so high, the real number was far off the reported number. “When you get clear-cut cases, there would be at least as many again that a coroner couldn’t give a ruling on because there is a slight doubt. Those sort of deaths aren’t counted as suicide, it’s scary.”

In the year to June 2015 the suicide rate increased from 11.73 to 12.27, up from a previous peak of 12.65 in 2010-11.

Saving face more important than saving lives

In one incidence, a 26 year old female artist from Wellington ended her life, leaving a suicide note on a notepad on her bed after previously calling Lifeline for support on the day she died. However the coroner insisted her death be recorded with an open verdict while her family are dismayed that no-one thought to contact them and tell them she was at risk. She just fell through the gaps of a crumbling system where saving face is more important than saving lives.

the father of the Wellington artist said that not revealing the true statistics prevented people from getting the help they needed from mental health services. “I felt they were stretched and I also felt they were lacking the ability to bring the work that was needed to be done.”

“We weren’t made aware of that call. They regarded it as non-urgent. I would have said that anyone calling that line was straight away a red flag. You don’t call the line because you’re relaxed, it’s because you’re contemplating taking your life. We only found out after the whole event occurred.”
“When we found out the call was made on the Sunday, we thought she must have taken her life then. But we couldn’t contact her because her mobile was turned off. She was isolating herself. If we’d known we would have gone round there,” he said.

Instead, after not hearing from her for two days his wife drove to where their daughter was staying and found her lying dead on her bed.

“It sounds like there is a hell of a lot of pressure on mental health services,” he said.

“But make family a part of the solution.”

One can speculate as to the reason why New Zealand’s coroners are under pressure to get the recorded suicide rate down, but playing with the figures will do nothing to reduce the problem. On the contrary, if the problem is perceived to have been resolved less resources will be allocated to treatment of vulnerable people.

And the end of the day, does it all have to come down to money and safeguarding  New Zealand’s misplaced ‘happiest place in the world’ reputation?

In another case, a 15 year old Invercargill boy was one of at least four Southlanders who have taken their own lives since March, two of them teenagers.

Gagged, Suppression

A mother in Christchurch lost her son to suicide when he was 18 years old, but she has been gagged from speaking about his death. She can’t even be named for fear that it could lead to copycats, she said she picks up the newspaper and reads report of young people who’ve died and thought their profiles were beautiful:

“You see these pictures of beautiful young people and their stories. We couldn’t do that. Not when it’s death by suicide,” said the mum, who can’t be named.

“When we wrote his death notice, we were told you can’t mention suicide. From the get-go, it was like this dirty little secret.”

As the anniversary of his death approached, she wanted to celebrate him. She spoke to a reporter, but then, a coroner suppressed the details around her son’s death.

The family can not be identified because as part of the suppression ruling, her son’s name may not be associated with the mention of suicide.

But not being able to talk about what happened has forced her to bottle up her grief. She wanted to celebrate him. She wanted to stop it happening to someone else’s son or daughter. She wanted public accountability for his death.

“For me, to have lost him and for it to just stop at losing him. I couldn’t reconcile that in my head. There had to be something more. The circumstances around his death were utterly tragic,” the mother says.

“I loved my child. I really loved him. I had a huge amount of pride and I wanted to celebrate him, and to have someone say ‘no, you can’t’. I couldn’t understand it. I want to be able to talk about my boy.”

The mother says the chief coroner’s decision to “muzzle the media” to prevent suicide was not working. Instead, it isolates people. It makes it a dirty word…

With suicide, the shutters come down straight away. The general excuse is it might encourage copycat suicides, there’s always a risk of that but with copycats there will always be an underlying issue to address, like bullying,” he said.

In this day and age, we’re not winning the war against suicide.”

Bourke says the medical profession “has never been good or open” about the situations that contribute to suicide.

About 25 per cent of New Zealanders will experience depression at some stage in their lives, but Bourke says the medical fraternity “doesn’t treat it properly”.

“It’s really hushed up everywhere. It’s wrong. We should be far more open about it. The medical profession, they cover it up, sweep it under the carpet and hope it will go away,” he says.

“I ask that question, have we the courage? Have we the courage to talk more openly about suicide?”

NZ’s Suicide Deaths are the Highest Since Records Began; and the Closure of Relationships Aotearoa

Silent Death Toll In World’s Eighth Happiest Country

10 thoughts on “New Zealand’s Suicides May be Under Reported by 300%

  1. don’t look at your government for help. a better start starts with yourself. simply care for the people around you. Don’t be self centered new zealand. You are the most self centered people I met in my whole life ! Make a chance for your youths. THEY ARE DYING… Michael jackson “heal the world”

    don’t forget there are people that CARE folks. NEVER LOOSE HOPE.

    • Actually do look to the government for assistance ,help and integrity ,they control the finances which N.Z people contribute to by way of taxes,N.Z people can be as self centered as anyone but many services and projects are funded by selfless volunteers while government squanders money on senseless endeavours .The N.Z government needs to start to be held accountable for the terrible social conditions their policies are creating.

  2. This is truly horrendous. If 570 people are dying each year from suicide, then this it nearly DOUBLE the road toll, which sits at around 300 people per year. For the government to then exacerbate the problem by shutting down critical counselling services is disgusting at best. It makes me wonder whether the government of New Zealand is DELIBERATELY making the problem worse.

    To be sending the equivalent of TWO jumbo jets full of people to their deaths every year and do NOTHING to prevent it, when these deaths are almost entirely preventable with the right support, is a good indication of what New Zealand is really like, and how badly it is failing its people.

    • Agreed not only are they doing nothing positive to address the suicide rate they are actively covering it up and disguising the deaths as accidental.this is 100% pure evil,the government seems to have lost sight of its fundamental purpose in this country.

  3. I read most weeks of people being run over and killed by trains. I have read 2 stories this week. I can only assume suicide for the quantity of events and doubt they get recorded as such. This aspect of NZ really worries me. My kids talk about suicide attempts by children at school. In the school context there seems to be quite a gossip type drama to it, who has tried to do it and who is thinking about it. There is that aspect as well as all the mental health issues that afflict people. I would not be surprised if it was 3 times higher than recorded.

    • There is also the question of how many people are committing suicide slowly, rather than with a single event. A good example of this is obesity, where people are effectively eating themselves to death. Obesity is often caused by comfort eating and lack of exercise. Other indications could be excessive use of alcohol and illegal drugs, both of which are also regularly used to escape emotional pain. New Zealand leads the world in all three of these areas, giving a very clear indication of just how emotionally damaging the culture here is.

  4. It is not just young people, it is old people. The Super was calculated on the basis that pensioners live in a fully paid mortgage free home, and the rates were reasonable. That is not the case today. Pensioners are forced to live in hi rent mouldy cold accommodation and constantly make a choice between eating and heating. I know one pensioner who moved to another country, just to find that WINZ international constantly inverting ever possible avenue to screw him on the pension. Immigrants, Scandinavians, who saved in KiwiSaver style funds in their country of origin get their savings confiscated by the New Zealand state that pockets it as falsely labelled foreign tax funded pension. It is personal savings for old age. New Zealand is a disgusting corrupt backwater of the world, not worth considering or even trading with.

  5. Thanks for sharing this lamentable story. Unfortunately, New Zealander prefers to devote resources to concealing problems and pretending that they do not exist rather than trying to address and rectify the problems.

  6. Our son committed suicide as well. He had also been bullied. Bullied by a court judge who had completely lost the plot. Our son was never accused of doing anything wrong, but was bullied for two years in the gagging courts in order to shut him up and frighten him into never saying anything to anyone about his little sister becoming victim of a child sex gang in Auckland.

    Our family suffer the terrible consequences every single day, after a child sex gang raped our under age child NZ authorities went to extraordinary lengths to shut us up – all with horrific consequences.

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