Youth Suicide Statistics Show Decrease

  • Tau Henare
Maori Affairs

The latest youth suicide statistics show a decrease in the incidence of youth suicide, the Minister of Health Bill English, Minister of Maori Affairs, Tau Henare, and the Minister of Youth Affairs Deborah Morris said today.

The figures show a fall from 156 deaths in 1995 to 144 deaths in 1996.

Commenting on the statistics the Ministers said that while the decrease was welcomed, there was no room for complacency.

"Every suicide is a tragedy for family and friends and can have an enormous impact on a whole community. And while we have seen a drop in numbers it is important to look at rates over five years or so to get a better picture of how those trends are moving. The fact remains that New Zealand's youth suicide rate is comparatively high," said Mr English.

Trends showed that the annual rate of suicide had increased from 12.6 deaths per 100,000 population in 1985, to 26.9 deaths per 100,000 population in 1996.

Commenting on the incidence of youth suicide among Maori, Mr Henare said the change in definition of ethnicity means the figures for 1996 cannot be accurately compared with the figures for previous years.

In 1996 a total of 38 Maori aged 15 - 24 years died by suicide. The overall rate for young Maori was 38.4 per 100,000.

Following consultation on the draft national youth suicide prevention strategy the Government had developed a number of initiatives aimed at keeping young people safe. A comprehensive list of these initiatives, together with work already underway, is attached.

"The Government is taking significant steps in an effort to prevent youth suicide. We need to be clear that there is no miracle cure to youth suicide. What we are delivering is a series of actions which can improve the community's response to youth. We all want to halt the increase in the rate of youth suicides. That will not be done overnight," said Deborah Morris.

"In addition to Government action every New Zealander has to ask themselves 'what am I doing to take care of young people?' We all need to communicate better and ensure that youth have all the support, information, and personal skills that they need when facing a crisis in their lives. Keeping youth focused on the positive is the responsibility of every New Zealander," she said.



Below are some of the government initiatives to support the reduction of self harming behaviour and suicide in young people. Many of these initiatives have been developed as a result of responses to the draft of the national youth suicide prevention strategy.


The Health Funding Agency (HFA) is expanding mental health services for children and young people around the country. An additional $11 million, making a total of $32 million, is being spent during the 1997/98 financial year.

New services purchased, or currently in negotiation or development include:

- early intervention services for youth with serious mental illness
- specialist youth assessment and treatment services
- supported accommodation for youth with serious mental illness
- iwi-provided services for Maori youth
- pilot programmes for Maori youth with alcohol and drug dependency problems
- additional adolescent acute inpatient psychiatric beds

The Health Funding Authority is running a national programme to counter stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness.

The Health Funding Authority is developing a five year purchasing plan which will include details on how child and youth mental health services can be increased and improved. This will be finalised by 1 July 1998.

The Ministry of Health is developing a strategic framework for specialist services to be provided for children and young people with severe mental health problems. This will be completed in June 1998.

The Ministry of Health will be developing a National Child Health Strategy which will outline key strategies for the clinical assessment of risk for mental health services. This will include a component on suicide risk assessment.

The Ministry of Youth Affairs is working with primary health care providers and other stakeholders to develop guidelines for primary health care providers (eg general practitioners, practice nurses, school nurses) on the recognition and management of young people considered to be at risk of suicide.

The Ministry of Youth Affairs is producing an information package aimed at parents on how to identify and deal with those at risk of committing suicide.

The Ministry of Youth Affairs is producing an information package aimed at young people on what to do if you think your friends are at risk.

The National Health Committee has published Guidelines on the Treatment and Management of Depression in Primary Health Care. These guidelines are primarily intended for general medical practitioners to improve the recognition and treatment of depression at a primary health care level. An implementation project is being run by North Health with an Independent Practitioner Association in Auckland.


Strengthening Families is an intersectoral initiative involving health, welfare, education and other social sectors. It has a significant work programme which aims to improve life outcomes for children at risk of poor outcomes, including improved health, better educational achievements, and a reduced incidence of persistent offending or abuse and neglect.

The Ministry of Education has developed and released a draft curriculum on health and physical education. It will contribute to the positive mental wellbeing of students by helping them to develop the skills to: express their feelings; identify their emotions; and support themselves and other during times of stress, disappointment and loss. The curriculum requires schools to provide learning opportunities which; strengthen students personal identity and self worth; promote tolerance, inclusiveness and non-discriminatory practices; enhance relationships; and help student recognize and respond to situations of abuse and harassment.

Guidelines on the recognition and management of young people at risk of suicide are being publishes by the Ministry of Education and the National Health Committee. The next phase, training for guidance counsellors and teachers, will begin in June 1998.

The Health Funding Authority has purchased training for teachers on Mental Health Matters, a mental health awareness curriculum for secondary schools which began implementation in May 1997 and will cover 250 schools by the end of 1998.

The Mental Health Foundation has published Young People and Depression (funded by the Health Funding Authority), a resource for people who work with youth (such as school guidance counsellors, teachers, youth workers, and TOPS tutors). Training on this resource will begin shortly.

The Ministry of Health has published Healthy Schools - Kura Waiora, Health Promotion Guidelines for Schools, which includes guidelines on mental health, and has been distributed to all schools.

The Specialist Education Services provide assistance to educational facilities (early childhood, schools, and tertiary) with the management of traumatic incidents. This can involve:

- immediate assistance with student and staff management issues - immediate assistance with postvention (and prevention of further suicides)
- analysis of organisational and personal risk
- development of a management plan on which the partnership for recovery can be based
- immediate assistance with issues of organisational continuance (where a staff member has been involved).

Police and Telecom have recognised that bullying can be a significant contributing factor in youth suicide and launched a national campaign in July 1997, providing practical advice and resources for young people and caregivers. This includes an Internet site, 0800 helpline, leaflets, a free video and community workshops.

By giving children the skills to protect themselves and be confident in getting help, Police education programmes such as DARE and Keeping Ourselves Safe help young people deal with stress and other precursors of suicide. An important outcome of these programmes is positive family interaction and support for young people.

The Ministry of Youth Affairs is producing information for parents, caregivers, and young people on the identification of, appropriate response to, and referral of young people considered to be at risk of suicide.


The New Zealand Children, Young Persons and their Families Service (CYPFS) has: - issued guidelines to staff on the recognition of suicidal behaviour and identification; - issued guidelines to staff on the recognition of depression in young people; and - other ongoing work in the development of the strategies to address the needs of young people displaying suicidal behaviour. For example a screening tool for assessing suicide risk is being developed by the Risk Estimation System Project.

Training for staff on suicide assessment and the recognition of depression has been developed by CYPFS Training units.

The Ministry of Youth Affairs and the Department of Internal Affairs are working together to look at skills of community based youth workers with young people with suicide risk.


Police have implemented a custodial suicide prevention training package for all staff. This includes a 'Prisoner Management Assessment Form' that ensures all persons in custody, including young people, are assessed for risk of suicide. Following a major review of cell environments, modifications were made to cells in some stations and a suicide-resistant cell installed in all 24-hour stations. Districts have also been reviewed to ensure they have sufficient suicide-resistant cells.

The Department of Corrections trains prison officers in the identification and management of suicidal inmates and has procedures for identifying and monitoring at-risk inmates, including 'safe' cell designs to minimise opportunities for self-harm.

The Department of Corrections has established a project to implement recommendations arising from its joint work with Te Puni Kokiri on Maori suicide.

The Public Prisons Service has circulated a training module on 'Cultural Aspect of Whakamomori (Suicide)', prepared by the Cultural Development Advisor at Auckland Prison. The module touches on the background of suicide in Maoridom, symptoms of suicide among Maori, reasons for suicide and managing 'at-risk' inmates, and provides information on finding cultural assistance to deal with 'at-risk' Maori inmates.

'Post incident support teams' are being provided in all prison institutions and include the provision of support to other inmates in the even of a suicide.


The Ministries of Health and Youth Affairs are working with key media groups on the ways they report or depict suicide, to reduce the potential for imitation. A guide for reporters and commentators, Preventing Suicide - guidelines for the media on the reporting of suicide, has been published and distributed.


The Ministry of Health is working to identify current gaps in research on youth suicide.


Te Puni Kokiri and the Ministries of Health and Pacific Island Affairs will report to Ministers on mechanisms to improve accuracy of ethnicity data on suicide.

The New Zealand Health Information Service has improved the timeliness of the collation of annual youth suicide data, to make it available earlier.