Story: Suicide

Every year more New Zealanders die by their own hand than in car crashes. The reasons behind suicide are always complex, but mental illness is often a major factor. Following a peak in the late 1990s, a number of programmes led to a reduction in the suicide rate.

Story by Jock Phillips
Main image: Youthline advertisement

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Costs of suicide

When people kill themselves, or try to kill themselves, it affects their family, friends and workmates. It also costs millions of dollars each year in terms of police, coroners, victim support and health care.

Rates

In the early 21st century around 500 New Zealanders died by suicide every year. New Zealand’s suicide rate was average internationally, but high compared to other developed countries, especially for those aged under 30. The rate of suicide among young Māori was particularly high.

New Zealand’s suicide rate peaked in the late 1990s. In 2015 there were 525 suicide deaths, a rate of 11 per 100,000 people. Male suicide rates were 2.5 times those for females. The youth rate was higher than other age groups. The rate for Māori (16.5 per 100,000) was higher than any other ethnic group. Those living in the poorest areas of New Zealand had the highest rates of suicide (twice those in the most well-off areas).

Why do people kill themselves?

The reasons why people kill themselves can include:

  • mental illness
  • loneliness and social isolation
  • romantic or marital problems
  • family difficulties
  • lack of work or money
  • serious physical illness
  • alcohol and/or drug problems.

Most people who have these problems do not kill themselves.

Preventing suicide

Society used to try to prevent suicide by making laws against it. Since the 1980s there have been many programmes and strategies aimed at reducing the suicide rate. These include providing support to at-risk people, and programmes to reduce prejudice and strengthen individuals and communities. There are limits to what the media can report about suicides.

If you or someone you know needs help, call: Lifeline (0800 543 354), Youthline (0800 376 633), 0800 What's Up? (0800 942 8787) or Kidsline (0800 543 754)

How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'Suicide', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/suicide (accessed 1 December 2021)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 16 Jul 2019 with assistance from Sunny Collings and Rosemary Du Plessis