Today the Mental Health Foundation joins all New Zealanders in grieving for the 654 people we lost to suicide last year. We know each of these numbers represents an individual who was loved and whānau, communities and loved ones who are grieving them. We send our aroha to everyone who is mourning a loss today.
“While no suicide number can ever be celebrated, there is some solace today that the effectiveness of steps taken to prevent suicide over the last few years seem to be reflected in today’s news that both our suicide rate and number have dropped slightly,” MHF chief executive Shaun Robinson says. “This is a reminder that efforts to prevent suicide do make a meaningful difference. There is, however, still a very long way to go.”
The Foundation particularly commends the efforts of Māori and Pasifika organisations, communities, whānau and individuals who have been working extremely hard to support their people and prevent suicide.
“The beginnings of the success of these efforts is reflected in today’s data, which shows a decrease in suicides for Māori and Pasifika,” Mr Robinson says. “We hope to see this continue.”
Increased rates of suicide for the Asian community and for people aged 80-84 are of concern to the Foundation, and it hopes official efforts to connect with and support members of these groups are made immediately.
Today’s data covers some of the period during which New Zealand was most affected by COVID-19 (March – June 2020). Due to rampant speculation, the chief coroner has already confirmed that suicides decreased during the lockdown period.
The Foundation is aware that research based on historical data from around the world and in Aotearoa shows a drop in suicide numbers is generally to be expected during disaster periods and their immediate aftermath. It is also aware that same data gives us forewarning this drop isn’t always permanent if efforts aren’t made to support people as they recover from disasters.
“Disasters like pandemics are times when communities come together to work with shared purpose on supporting each other and getting through,” Mr Robinson says. “Feeling valued, included and part of something bigger than you is great for wellbeing and hugely protective against suicide. We are seeing the proof of this every day at the moment.
“But we cannot leave anyone behind when we begin to move on from the disaster phase of COVID-19 and begin to recover and rebuild our country and our economy. It is not inevitable that we will see increases in our suicide rate again if we resource efforts to prevent this from happening and continue to support each other through tough times.”
The Foundation hopes today’s data will help to stop persistent rumours and lies that suicides increased over lockdown or as a result of measures to respond to COVID-19.
“Rumours of increased suicidality and suicides over lockdown and due to COVID-19 have been persistent on social media and even from some of our political leaders,” Mr Robinson says. “The speculation was unhelpful and counterproductive to suicide prevention but it was also profoundly untrue. While people did very sadly die by suicide during this period, numbers were overall lower than in previous years. There is no need to inflate numbers to make them sound worse.”
It has been a tough year for all New Zealanders, but the Foundation has been encouraged to see how many people have taken meaningful action to support each other and lift wellbeing. Evidence that we really care for one another has been found in the big and small actions to take care of each other and protect our people from COVID-19. The Foundation hopes to see this continue into the future.
Spokespeople from the Mental Health Foundation are available in Te Reo Māori and English.