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 have led to a reduction in the suicide rate.

Story by Jock Phillips
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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.


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 under 30. The rate of suicide among young Māori was particularly high.

New Zealand’s suicide rate peaked in the late 1990s, but until 2015, when there were 525 suicide deaths, a rate of 11 per 100,000. Male suicide rates were 2.5 times those rates for female. The youth rates were higher than other age groups. Rates for Māori (16.5 per 100,000) were higher than any other ethnic group. Those living in the most deprived areas within New Zealand had the highest rates of suicide (twice as high as those living in the least deprived areas).

Why do people kill themselves?

The reasons why people kill themselves are complex, and can include:

  • mental illness
  • loneliness and social isolation
  • romantic or marital problems
  • family difficulties
  • lack of work or money
  • serious physical illness
  • alcohol and 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 as well as programmes to reduce prejudice and programmes that strengthen individuals and communities. There are controls on 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, (accessed 12 April 2021)

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