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Understanding New Zealand’s alarming suicide rates

In brief
  • New Zealand faces alarming suicide rates. Youth rates are the highest in the OECD.
  • Māori face suicide rates 50% higher, but, overall, male rates are twice the female rates.
  • Having a father growing up may be more important than race in determining risk factors.
  • Family cohesion and healthy lifestyles may be essential for long-term improvement.

Understanding New Zealand’s alarming suicide rates

Data on confirmed suicide rates has not been released by the Government since 2018. However the latest data relating to suspected suicide released by Health NZ for the year to 30 June 2023 paints an unpleasant picture: 565 people lost their lives to suspected suicide, with a rate of nearly 11 people per 100,000. This is a modest increase from the previous year’s figures, where 538 people died by suspected suicide, with a rate of about 10 per 100,000.

New Zealand’s holds the highest youth suicide rate in the OECD. However our rate of suicide appears to have declined in recent years, amid a number of changes to how deaths are classified, which many Kiwis believe is a “cover-up attempt, either by accident or design”.

NZ Suicide Rates are Disturbing
Breakdowns in families is a risk factor in suicidal ideation.

There are disparities in suicide rates in different demographics. The Pasifika community saw positive results as their rate of suicide dropped nearly in half, from 9.2 to 5.1 per 100,000. The Asian demographic showed no change.

Distressing results for Māori as suicide remains 50% higher than average 

For the Māori community suicide rates are around 50% higher than the national average. Some, like mental health advocate Shaun Robinson, claim that this indicates the effect of racial discrimination and inequality that persist within New Zealand society, especially impacting Māori populations.

Disparity between men and women is twice that of Māori versus non-Māori, with men committing suicide twice as often as women. Does this suggest more challenges and pressures are faced by men? It certainly questions the assertion that racism or discrimination is a major factor in the higher Māori rates.

International research offers insights into on potential risk indicators 

Studies abroad indicate higher suicide rates in certain groups, namely those growing up without fathers who go on to experience poor economic outcomes. This  prompts questions about the societal structures and support systems for these people.

The breakdown in the family is breaking the individual, not racism

Fatherlessness in Māori communities is significantly higher than non-Māori. Could maybe this, and not racism, be the major driver.

Some research into depression shows correlations to lifestyle factors, including exercise and diet, have far reaching implications on all areas of health, including suicide.

If broken families are a driver, tackling the breakdown of the traditional family structure, with communities taking a proactive role in supporting marriages, could benefit suicide rates in the long run.

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