Suicide statistics

What's behind the numbers
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In New Zealand, suicide data is collected and published in two different ways:

Annually, the provisional suicide statistics are published by the Chief Coroner. This data represents all deaths in New Zealand that are suspected to be suicides. This data is provisional because in order for a death to be legally described as a suicide, a coroner must rule that the death was self-inflicted. 
Sometimes this process can take over a year and the total number of suicides after all cases are closed is usually lower than the provisional number. These cases are subject to significant changes as coroners investigate and new information comes to light. 
Less often, the Ministry of Health publishes Suicide Facts. While this data is intended to be published annually (within two to three years of the year of interest), it has been some time since a complete report was issued. 

What does the data tell us?

The most recent year for which we have provisional suicide data is the financial year from July 2018 – June 2019.
This data showed the highest number of reported suicides New Zealand has recorded. 685 people are suspected to have died by suicide during this period.
While the number is the highest number, the suicide rate – that is the number of people who have died by suicide per 100,000 population – is not the highest. 

Which number matters more – the rate or the total number?

Both are important. The total number represents each individual who is suspected to have died by suicide (or, in the official data, the number of people who have been found to have died by suicide). Each one of these people was important and deserves to be acknowledged.
However, the rate is more helpful in comparing suicide data over time because it helps to adjust for population size. It is also more meaningful in helping us to understand how suicide impacts different populations such as Māori and non-Māori. Because the number of Māori is smaller than the number of non-Māori, we need to know their rate per hundred thousand to see that the Māori suicide rate is much higher than the non-Māori suicide rate and know Maori need targeted suicide prevention initiatives. 

Does New Zealand have the highest suicide rate in the world?

No, but we do have the highest youth suicide rate in the world.

New Zealand sits in the middle of other OECD countries when comparing total population suicide rates. Our suicide rate is higher than Ireland’s or the United Kingdom’s, but lower than Australia’s or the United States’. 

Source: OECD (2019), Suicide rates (indicator). doi: 10.1787/a82f3459-en (Accessed on 25 August 2019)

Who is at risk of suicide?

While every person who experiences suicidal distress has their own unique story to tell, there are some risk factors that can make people more vulnerable to suicide.
Note: most people who experience these risk factors will not become suicidal. It’s important to understand what can put people at risk and know how to respond but it’s equally important to see people as individuals and not make assumptions about the causes of their distress.

Risk factors include:

  • Having previously attempted suicide
  • Having experienced suicidal distress/thoughts/behaviours
  • Losing a loved one or peer to suicide
  • Age – in New Zealand, young people have the highest suicide rate
  • Gender – in New Zealand and around the world, men are 3-4 times more likely to die by suicide
  • Sexuality – there is evidence that non-heterosexual people are at higher risk of suicide
  • Gender identity – there is evidence that people who do not identify with they gender they are assigned at birth are at a higher risk of suicide
  • Ethnicity – in New Zealand, Māori are more likely to die by suicide than non-Māori
  • Family and childhood experiences, including experiencing poverty, deprivation, physical and/or sexual abuse, alcohol abuse, the loss of significant family members
  • Experience of mental illness (including depression, anxiety)
  • Substance abuse
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Being exposed to media reporting/depictions/portrayal of suicide
  • Relationship breakdowns
  • Losing status/influence
  • Loneliness
  • Unemployment
It’s important to understand most of these risk factors are out of our control. We cannot change our ethnicity or age, we often cannot change our environments. 

That’s why suicide prevention can be so complex – we need to understand why people of a certain age, a certain ethnicity, and/or with a certain background are more at risk and then work to reduce that risk rather than changing the person. 

We don’t just need more or better services – we need to tackle big issues like how we support people bereaved by suicide, racism, the legacy of colonisation, poor housing, homophobia, discrimination, barriers to education and social barriers that prevent people from feeling comfortable or safe asking for help. 
However, we can help individuals who are at risk of suicide now, without waiting for these big issues to be solved. For more information, visit our Worried about someone page

Suicide prevention resources