Suicide Prevention Office calls for an end to speculation about suicide numbers

Media release

21 August 2020

With the release of the annual suicide statistics by the Chief Coroner today, Director of the Suicide Prevention Office, Carla na Nagara is asking that this also ends the harmful speculation about suicide numbers.

‘Inaccurate, speculative and distressing information about the relationship between suicide risk and the COVID-19 response is unhelpful and has the potential to cause significant harm. While the COVID-19 response may have significant, long term effects on people’s lives, an increase in suicides is not inevitable,’ said Carla na Nagara.

‘There have been speculative comments on a wide range of platforms on media and social media of suicide numbers over recent months. This is distressing for families and communities, can be triggering for vulnerable people and further stretches the people who are working hard to provide support. We need to make sure that we are dealing with only the facts and remember that the Chief Coroner is the sole authority on real-time data for suspected suicides.

‘While it is encouraging to see that the number of suspected suicides over the course of the year is lower than the past two years, there is no conclusion to be drawn from this. We must also remember that behind every one of these numbers is a person and families. My deepest condolences go out to those who have lost a loved one as a result of suicide over the past year.

‘Focusing on suicide numbers will not help us to prevent suicide in New Zealand, and speculating about them can have the opposite effect.

‘We need to look behind the numbers to understand what is contributing to our suicide rate, and to the different rates within different population groups. We then need to address those issues. Until we do that as a country, there will not be any enduring impact on what is a shamefully high suicide rate in New Zealand.

‘Preventing suicide requires an all-of-society effort from everyone. We all impact one another’s wellbeing – this includes friends, family members, employers, colleagues, sports clubs, social clubs, NGOs and Government departments, as well as health and mental health services. We all have a part to play in preventing people from becoming so distressed that they see suicide as their only option.

‘Strong, healthy, connected whānau, families and communities are the most important protective factors against suicide. The focus for suicide prevention should rest with communities, with whānau, with community leadership and with community services, supported in a sustainable manner by local and central government.

‘No matter what the stress is - and I acknowledge there is significant pressure in many of our communities at this time – if our mental wellbeing is strong, we can cope better with problems and uncertainty in our lives.

‘Every single one of us has a role to play in suicide prevention. It’s up to all of us.

‘We all need to take practical, proactive steps to look after our mental wellbeing - practicing helpful techniques and accessing support when we need it.

‘Each of us has the ability to reach out to someone who might not be coping. The simple act of asking someone if they are ok can be enough to connect with them and provide hope.

‘It’s important people remember they don’t have to be responsible for fixing the problem the person is facing, but they can be responsible for helping to connect them with help.

‘Record investments are being made in mental health and wellbeing, and more support is available than ever before.

‘We also want people to know it’s alright to not be feeling alright. Support and health services are available and do make a difference - they can and do help.

‘Importantly, a number of online mental health and wellbeing supports can be accessed data free through the Sponsored Data partnership between the Ministry of Health and mobile network operators Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees. This enables people to access essential COVID-19 information, health information and resources, and eligible online health services for free,’ said Ms na Nagara.

Media contact

Kate Clark
021 197 4785

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