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Focus on suicide

Written By: - Date published: 9:02 pm, March 17th, 2008 - 31 comments
Categories: health - Tags:

The Government has launched a new suicide prevention action plan. Suicide is a tragedy that has touched several Ministers personally and it is good to see them putting more effort into confronting it. The aim of the strategy is to improve mental and social well-being for at risk people as well as providing more effective intervention following suicide attempts.

In many ways suicide, like crime, is a symptom of a society in trouble. The reforms of the 1980s and 1990s caused wages to fall and unemployment to rise. As a result, both suicide and crime increased, peaking in the late 1990s, as many people, especially young adults, found themselves unemployed with no prospect of finding a job to give their lives purpose. When National left power and the Government enacted its policies of high employment, wage growth, and better social services, both suicide and crime started to fall; some of the underlying causes of suicide and crime – unemployment, social disconnection, and a sense of worthlessness – were reduced. As a result of these policies, the Government has already been enormously successful in reducing suicide, in 2002-2004 (figures are released for three year periods) there were 13.1 suicides per 100,000 people, down 19.6% from the peak period, 1996-1998.

Now that those socio-economic causes of suicide have been reduced it is time for the Government to deliver more specialised resources for those particularly at risk. It is difficult and often traumatic work for the social workers and other public servants involved. We should offer them every support in their efforts.

[Update: see the graph on page two here [PDF], for how the reforms increased suicide by young males, and remember that leap represents 70 real human beings each year]

31 comments on “Focus on suicide ”

  1. I’d say if you mapped the youth suicide rate (I think it’s 15-25) you’d find it tracked pretty closely to the youth unemployment rate. I had a few friends and friends of friends who killed themselves or tried real hard to in the 90’s. We’d been promised lives like our boomer parents and instead we got 40% youth unemployment, shitty temp jobs, a social welfare system that was geared towards making your life as hard as it could be and a health-care system that pushed you out the door as fast as possible to free-up a new bed, oh and food-banks, glue ear for our kids and overcrowding. Hearing that cunt Douglas talk about wasted opportunities under Labour on morning report today enraged me. He and his mates took and damaged so many lives. They should be tried for murder. We can not go back.

  2. Dean 2

    Your understanding of statistics isn’t getting any better, Steve. I also find it highly amusing that you link economic factors as the primary symptom, ignoring all evidence to the contrary.

    In fact it’s worse than amusing, it’s actually sickening that you’re so far gone that you’re playing politics with this matter.

  3. James Kearney 3

    Do you have an actual response there Dean? Or are you trying the false moral outrage card because the facts don’t fit your politics? I thought Steve’s post was very measured and thoughtful.

  4. higherstandard 4


    Perhaps you should forward this to the NZ Medical Journal they need a good laugh

  5. it’s actually sickening that you’re so far gone that you’re playing politics with this matter

    Do you really think suicide sits outside of politics? That it happens in a socio-economic vacuum? It’s the right’s attempts to morally ringfence the uncomfortable truths of the human suffering their ideology inflicts upon people that is sickening.

  6. I can hear the cries of “correlation doesnt equal causation” coming in the distance already…

    Well done Steve(and Labour) for making a stand on a difficult topic that all to often is the elepahnt in the room.

  7. higherstandard 7

    Steve from a friend in mental health

    Suicide is more likely among young people if a parent commits suicide or there is a history of mental illness in the individual and their siblings

    Socioeconomic risk factors seem to be less important

    Preventive strategies should be aimed at the early recognition and optimal treatment of mental illnesses

  8. Socioeconomic risk factors seem to be less important
    Ah but they are still very important at the (large) margins. I agree with you that we need preventative strategies. Mental health services were cut with the rest of the health system in the 90’s. I repeat: This shit does not happen in a vacuum.

  9. higherstandard 9

    I wasn’t aware that Mental health services were cut during the 90.s Rob I though the converse was true – I accept you’re more likely to have the figures on that than me so can’t debate the issue at present. Perhaps after I’ve got the first round of patinest out of the way.

  10. Steve Pierson 10

    We’re social beings, traumas that occur on a social level affect individuals and increase the chance that individuals will act in ways we might term dysfunctional.

    There’s no doubting opportunities were closed down to a generation of young people during the reform era, 40% inflation, fewer work rights, expensive education. It’s also clear that crime and suicide increased during that time. What the graph i’ve copied above doesn’t show is how dramatically the youth male suicide rate increased when the reforms started (as did the crime rate) see page two here http://www.moh.govt.nz/moh.nsf/ea6005dc347e7bd44c2566a40079ae6f/b64dd5922acf8776cc256bb5000cf632/$FILE/ysf20001.pdf

    Does that mean this is the only cause of crime and suicide? of course not.

  11. Vic 11

    In the 90s I watched a friend of mine try to establish a life for himself away from his schizophrenic mum and bipolar dad. In the genetic stakes he was dealt a spectacularly crap hand, but pretty much everything conspired to makes things worse. The way the benefit system was structured he had to prove he was financially independent from his parents every single year of university. Administrative delays every year meant that he went without income for weeks and even, on one occasion, more than a month. He couldn’t pay rent, couldn’t buy food at times and ended up being dependent on his mates, which was bad for all of us. It was impossible for him to get work that paid more than $8 an hour. There were suicide attempts, periods in hospital and times when he went without any help of any kind because the public system didn’t have a bed. To anyone who thinks that mental illness is solely a medical issue and that not being able to get work or income to get out of a family which is unstable due to parental mental health issues, or being repeatedly made to feel that society has no use for you has nothing to do with it, I’d say, simply, that you’re full of shit. I’d also add that I’ve seen other, less fortunate friends slip through the cracks more recently because the public system is severely under-resourced, even now. And when I say slipped through the cracks I mean they’re dead. This is something that needs to be addressed with as much as we can throw at it.

  12. r0b 12

    Thanks to posters above who remind us all of some of the personal stories that lie behind the statistics that we endlessly debate.

    A new and worrying dimension to youth suicide is the intersection of the old problem of bullying and the new dimension of technology. “Cyber-bullying”, no escape now, 24 7.

    (As an aside, a lot of the aggressive rubbish posted on blogs is on the same continuum as cyber-bullying. Be an advocate of better manners on line.)

  13. higherstandard 13


    Does that mean this is the only cause of crime and suicide? of course not.

    glad you have acknowledged this

    Og interest in the report in question the authors explicitly state

    In terms of the increased suicide rate…

    We don’t really know why. There are many factors that may have some level of influence, such as
    increasing rates of depression and alcohol and drug abuse, rising rates of violence and abuse,
    cultural alienation, changes in family structure and in society as a whole, reduced influence of
    religion, high unemployment, and trends towards a more risk-taking and individualistic society.
    There is also a greater awareness of suicide and suicide is portrayed in the media more than
    before. Some argue suicide has become “normalised’ and is regarded by some as an “acceptable’
    solution to an emotional crisis.

  14. So tell me HS – what were you doing in the 1990’s? And what have you got to say about Irish’s analysis of the mental health reforms of the nineties? Any effect on suicide rates d’ya think?

  15. higherstandard 15


    I’ve been working in the Health Sector for a very long time.

    Irish’s analysis is fairly accurate.

    Regarding the economic effect on suicide rates refer to my previous post (there is no compelling evidence – sorry but my medical background makes me biased towards having a proven effect)

    What is interesting is to look at rates across different countries and cultures where certain countries one would expect to have high or low suicidality scores have just the opposite.

    I would add from my colleagues perspective as a psychiatrist (I am in surgery so don’t see many mentally ill patients) that the reasons for siucide and attmepted suicide are many and varied.

  16. burt 16

    I can’t take anything Jolly Jim has to say about drug policy and suicide prevention as being credible.

    The graph invites some easy correlation between benefit/employment levels and suicide rate. If the relationship was indeed that simple then pumping a few billy more in welfare while we have low unemployment seems like a small cost to almost eliminate suicide completely.

    Go Jim! Nothing skewed about them figures is there – No Coroners badgered to not report deaths as suicide… no surely not Coroners resigning over it….

  17. r0b 17

    I can’t take anything Jolly Jim has to say about drug policy and suicide prevention as being credible.

    I think it’s safe to say that he knows more about it than you do Burt.

    The graph invites some easy correlation between benefit/employment levels and suicide rate.

    So it does Burt.

    Nothing skewed about them figures is there – No Coroners badgered to not report deaths as suicide no surely not Coroners resigning over it .

    So let me get this straight. Instead of an obvious correlation between quality of life and suicide, Burt’s explanation is that the government has put pressure on people to skew the figures to make themselves look good. Have I got it Burt? Is that your argument? Just checking…

  18. burt 18


    I’m simply pointing to real issues surrounding suicide reporting. Both families and political pressure come to play here. A graph from a man who has long been critical of suicide reporting is something that should be taken for what it is – dots and lines on a page.

    See here: http://www.kiwisfirst.co.nz/index.asp?PageID=2145845343

    27 August 2007
    Late in July 2007 it was revealed that Auckland High Court Justice Paul Heath ruled last December – more than a year after Robert Fardell QC (right) fell to his death from the 15 metre high Takapuna Head cliffs into the rocky surf at high tide – that the Auckland Coroner’s findings and the evidence into the bizarre circumstances of Fardell’s death would be largely suppressed. This Court ruling by Heath J followed prominent barrister Harry Waalken QC obtaining a restraining order in July 2006 preventing the Coroner from releasing his written report while the family sought a judicial review designed to censure and obscure the Coroner’s findings.

    Now who was it that most recently fired a Wellington Coroner over his refusal to change his decision to Accident from Suicide ?

  19. r0b 19

    I’m simply pointing to real issues surrounding suicide reporting

    I’m so relieved to hear it Burt. For a moment there I thought you had such a deeply pathological need to deny anything that looks like evidence of improving social indicators under Labour led governments that you were prepared to argue that there was no relationship between improving quality of life and declining suicide rates.

    A graph from a man who has long been critical of suicide reporting is something that should be taken for what it is – dots and lines on a page.

    Ooops – no – there you go again. Shooting the messenger because you want to deny the message. Burt, any tiny effort on your part to look in to this data for yourself would have found multiple sources of support for the claims. Try this:


    Although we still have a relatively high suicide rate overall compared to other developed countries, with 460 self-inflicted deaths a year, there have been some very positive trends emerging over the last decade which are not being picked up by the media and some support agencies. […]

    However, it is totally incorrect and of concern in 2005 to continue to give the impression that we have disastrous suicide rates in this country, and that there has been no improvement over the last decade […]

    This embarrassing ignorance about falling suicide rates is of concern to me as a researcher in this very sensitive area, because of the dangers that false perceptions and unbalanced stories can run the risk of normalising suicide and encouraging “copycat’ suicidal behaviour amongst vulnerable members of the community.

    So Burt, please stop perpetrating this destructive myth. And please don’t expect to be taken as anything other than the worst kind of conspiracy nutcase if you argue, based on some tiny percentage of disputed cases, that falling suicide rates arise from political interference in the stats.

  20. burt 20


    Cullen sacks Coroner Garry Evans

    I would have linked back to the original stuff article but it’s gone.

    Mr Evans’ failing from the Government’s point of view, no doubt, is that he fell foul of Associate Health Minister Jim Anderton, who is not a man to turn the other cheek. Mr Evans is a supporter of making public more details after someone takes his or her own life. He accepts that silence about the epidemic of young, and not so young, men and women who decide life is no longer worth living has simply fostered an environment in which we have one of the world’s highest rates of suicide. Mr Anderton does not agree.

    Mr Evans has done Wellington and its citizens a service by ripping strips off Capital and Coast District Health Board and its mental health services, which he deemed had let too many people down too often, as well as Transit NZ when it put money ahead of lives. No more.

    So, are you saying political interference is not a factor? Because I’m not saying it’s a conspiracy, I’m just reviewing some history on the players and making my own judgment on the factors – how about you?

  21. burt 21

    The other thing you could conclude from that graph is that when Labour were hell out reforming the suicide rate was declining. About the same time that David Lange took his tea break and banned the American ships it all turned to custard. We still haven’t got it as low as when we were under one of the most right wing govt’s this country has ever seen.

    Go the ACT party – the suicide prevention party!

  22. burt 22

    What I find most alarming from the report is the Maori suicide rates.

    • The average rate of suicide for Māori was 17.1 deaths per 100,000 population in 20022004. This is a 13.2% increase from 20012003 (15.1 per 100,000 population), but a 17.9% decrease from 19961998.
    • In 20022004 the average suicide rates for Māori males and females were 26.9 and 7.9 deaths per 100,000 population respectively, and for non-Māori males and females, the rates were 18.4 and 5.9 deaths per 100,000 population respectively.
    • The disparity between the average suicide rates of Māori and non-Māori males in 20022004 is the widest it has been in the previous eight years.

    There is a lot of work to be done here.

  23. burt 23

    Later in the report

    New Zealand research has found that the overwhelming majority of those who die by suicide or make suicide attempts were experiencing mental health problems, which are often accompanied by other sources of life stress and difficulty.

    Now what was I2 saying about the timing of the Helen Clark (minister of health) reforms over on the mental health thread ?
    see: http://www.thestandard.org.nz/?p=1425#comment-23598

    Late 80’s thru early 90’s ummm. Yep can see that impact.

  24. r0b 24

    So, that was truly vintage Burt ladies and gentlemen. A full U turn from “the government cooks the stats” to the significance of mental health and “other sources of life stress and difficulty” in the space of about 5 posts. Make of it what you will…

  25. burt 25


    Are you going to answer the question, are you saying political interference is not a factor in reporting?

    Additionally, do you agree the graph presented shows the lowest suicide rate was during the time of significant reforms, IE an ACT style govt? And do you agree that it shows that when Helen Clark was minister of health de-institutionalising the mental health service the rate climbed quite sharply?

    Are you concerned that Maori suicide rates are so high and that the Maori suicide rate appears to be falling at a much slower rate than non Maori? This suggests to me that Labour’s policies are not working well for Maori people. What makes this particularly alarming are the claims that the suicide rate fall is socioeconomic improvement under the Labour led govt. Not for Maori I guess, and hopefully the Maori party can make some head way with these salient points.

    In an effort to say the declining suicide rate is entirely rated to the presence of a Labour led govt and it’s policies are you simply accepting the other consequences as a cost of having an overall downward trend?

    Thanks for the “vintage” tag, it’s great to explore a very complex issue, rather than claim one factor is the controlling factor or sanitise it because it’s not expedient to explore the detail.

  26. r0b 26

    Are you going to answer the question, are you saying political interference is not a factor in reporting?

    Ahhh – which question Burt? You’re all over the place mon ami. I’m happy to assert that “political interference” is not a significant factor in reporting (especially in a statistical sense).

    aditionally, do you agree the graph presented shows the lowest suicide rate was during the time of significant reforms, IE an ACT style govt?

    Yes and no Burt. It’s the lowest individual point at the start of that period before the “reforms” kicked in, and it increases sharply during that period.

    And do you agree that it shows that when Helen Clark was minister of health de-institutionalising the mental health service the rate climbed quite sharply?

    Yes I agree, but recall that this graph is of rates in the whole population. The subset of the population using mental health services is not large. So while there may or may not have been an increase in suicide rates in that subset population at the time, this graph doesn’t tell us anything about it (the effects are subsumed by the overall trend).

    Are you concerned that Maori suicide rates are so high and that the Maori suicide rate appears to be falling at a much slower rate than non Maori?

    Of course I’m concerned Burt. At least they are falling, but of course it could be better. I’d be very interested to here National’s proposals for addressing this issue. I wonder if the social upheaval caused by abolishing Maori seats will help at all?

    In an effort to say the declining suicide rate is entirely rated to

    Don’t be silly Burt, there is no single factor which “entirely” controls these things.

    Thanks for the “vintage’ tag

    Why you’re welcome Burt.

    it’s great to explore a very complex issue, rather than claim one factor is the controlling factor or sanitise it because it’s not expedient to explore the detail.

    So glad to see your recent conversion to rational debate. Such a change from how you entered this thread: “Go Jim! Nothing skewed about them figures is there – No Coroners badgered to not report deaths as suicide no surely not Coroners resigning over it “.

  27. randal 27

    keep it simple stupid…depression is anger turned inward and suicide is the desire to harm someone else turned inward and that person is usually the parent of the same sex. its all very well taking the durkheimian view that suicide can be plotted on a graph but in the end it comes down to child rearing practice and the prevailing culture. what is it about our culture that fosters parental ttitudes alientaing them from their children…that is the nub and either we do something about it or we do the ostrich dance because it is too painful to our carefully constructed externally referenced existence and infantilised ego’s.

  28. Oh my god we’ve got some kind of Lacanian here…

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