It is not uncommon for people to be overwhelmed, to see no way out, or to have no hope that things can be different. Sometimes people are scared of their suicidal thoughts, or worried that they will act on them. While thinking about suicide is common, not everyone who thinks about suicide goes on to develop a plan or carry it out.
Suicide affects people from all communities and walks of life but some populations such as Māori, youth, men and people who use mental health and addiction services are more likely to die by suicide. Pasifika and Rainbow communities, and people who are bereaved by suicide are also disproportionately affected.
Some populations are more at risk than others, including people who have multiple risks factors and experience the cumulative impacts of these.
Suicide risks and protective factors
A common way of understanding suicide and opportunities to prevent suicide is centred on reducing factors known to increase the likelihood of suicide (risk factors) and increasing factors that are known to reduce the likelihood of suicide (protective factors).
These factors can exist at the individual, relationship, community and societal level. Certain populations or people may have more risk factors than others, and many experience cumulative risk factors.
Some protective factors for suicide
- Good whānau and family relationships
- Access to secure housing
- Stable employment
- Community support and connectedness
- Secure cultural identity
- Ability to deal with life’s difficulties
- Access to support and help.
Some risk factors for suicide
- Bereavement by suicide
- Access to means of suicide
- Sense of isolation
- History of mental illness, addiction or problematic substance abuse
- Previous suicide attempts
- Experience of trauma
- Exposure to bullying.
Different population groups may experience different risk factors, requiring a range of tailored support to meet their needs.
Addressing the wider determinants of health and wellbeing
Many of the risk and protective factors for suicide are linked to broader determinants of health and wellbeing. To successfully prevent suicide, we need to look outside the health system and think broadly about addressing the factors that may increase or decrease the range of risk factors for individuals and communities.
Aotearoa New Zealand has a range of services and programmes that contribute to reducing the risk factors and increasing protective factors for suicide. This includes work to prevent bullying, initiatives to reduce child poverty and homelessness, the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy, the New Zealand Disability Strategy, He Korowai Oranga – Māori Health Strategy and initiatives to address family and sexual violence.
He Ara Oranga, the report of the report of the Inquiry into Mental Health and Addiction, provides an opportunity to put people at the centre of our transformation of the mental health and addiction system, and will help people get support when they first need it.
Most of these services and programmes will be implemented over the coming years as part of other initiatives, strategies and policies. This wider work aims to improve people’s wellbeing and respond more effectively to the unique and complex needs of all individuals, families, whānau and communities.