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Research on link between social factors, suicide

Hon Jim Anderton

Minister of Agriculture
Minister for Biosecurity
Minister of Fisheries
Minister of Forestry
Associate Minister of Health
Associate Minister for Tertiary Education

Progressive Leader

12 December 2005 Media release

Anderton releases research on the link between social factors and suicide in NZ

Social factors do have an influence on suicide, according to a report released today by the Associate Health Minister Jim Anderton.

Mr Anderton said much research exists about individual level risk factors for suicide, but there had been few examinations of possible social influences on suicide in New Zealand.

He said the Ministry of Health had therefore commissioned a suite of five reports from the Wellington Medical School and Health Sciences between 2001 and 2004 that examined a range of possible social explanations for the trends in New Zealand’s suicide rates to 1999.

The reports released by Mr Anderton today are:

- Explaining Patterns of Suicide: A Selective review of studies examining social, economic, cultural and other population-level influences;

- Suicide Rates in New Zealand: Exploring associations with social and economic factors;

- He whakamomori: He Whakaaro, he korero noa: A collection of contemporary views on Mäori and suicide;

- The Impact of Economic recession on Youth Suicide: a comparison of New Zealand and Finland. (2003); and

- Suicide Trends and Social Factors in New Zealand 1981-1999: Analyses from the New Zealand Census-Mortality Study.

The scope of the reports ranged from a selective literature review of published studies examining a range of social factors for suicide, to contemporary Mäori views on suicide (whakamomori), comparisons of suicide rates between Finland and New Zealand during economic recession, and the correlation between suicide and socio-economic fluctuations in New Zealand over a 20-year period.

A sixth report that draws conclusions from these five reports was released in May to coincide with the release of the Government's draft all-ages suicide prevention strategy.

The broad consensus arising from the reports is that social factors are relevant to suicide events. Dr Sunny Collings and Associate-Professor Annette Beautrais, the authors of the concluding report, say this is consistent with international opinion that suicide prevention cannot be left entirely to clinical interventions. However, it is not clear which social-level interventions (if any) will have a demonstrable and specific effect on suicide rates, either in the population as a whole, or in specific sub-populations.

While Dr Collings and Associate-Professor Beautrais concurred that social and economic factors do have an impact on suicide rates, they stated that the extent of the links between macrosocial, cultural and macroeconomic factors and individual suicidal behaviours remained unclear.

They said it was important to state that many social interventions need to be considered in their own right, independent of any potential effect on suicide rates. This was because some factors known to be linked to risk factors for suicide (such as substance abuse, child abuse and neglect) may be amenable to either targeted interventions or whole of population initiatives.

There were also broader benefits to individuals and to society from interventions to improve social conditions, such as reducing high unemployment rates and economic disparities between population groups.

Jim Anderton commented that research into suicide is giving us a growing understanding of the risk factors that cause suicidal behaviour.

“We have come a long way in the last ten years in what we know about suicide. These New Zealand reports are important contributors to the international research on suicide. The big challenge that remains is translating this knowledge into effective prevention programmes. We do know that there is no single programme for suicide prevention that will achieve an immediate and large reduction in suicide rates."

Key findings:

Report 1 Explaining Patterns of Suicide: A selective review of studies examining social, economic, cultural and other population-level influences. (2002). Authors: Caroline Maskill, Ian Hodges, Velma McClellan, Dr Sunny Collings.
Key finding: Showed that although a range of characteristics of society are associated with suicide rates, it has been difficult to establish direct causal relationships.

Report 2 Suicide Rates in New Zealand: Exploring associations with social and economic factors. (2002).Authors: Stuart Ferguson, Assoc Prof Tony Blakely, Bridget Allan, Dr Sunny Collings.
Key finding: Supported the conclusion of report 1.

Report 3 He whakamomori: He Whakaaro, he korero noa: A collection of contemporary views on Mäori and suicide. (2004). Dr Paul Hirini, Dr Sunny Collings.
Key finding: Studied the views of selected Mäori with expertise in the area of suicide. Their views were found to concur with existing literature in emphasising political and cultural change as key social contributors to suicide among Mäori.

Report 4 The Impact of Economic recession on Youth Suicide: a comparison of New Zealand and Finland. (2003). Assoc Prof Philippa Howden-Chapman, Dr Simon Hales, Dr Ralph Chapman, Dr Ilmo Keskimaki.
Key finding: Compared New Zealand's and Finland's responses to the global economic recession and provided evidence that suggested - though was not conclusive - differing impacts of economic conditions on male youth suicide rates.

Report 5 Suicide Trends and Social Factors in New Zealand 1981-1999: Analyses from the New Zealand Census-Mortality Study. (2004). Dr Sunny Collings, Assoc Prof Tony Blakely, June Atkinson, Jackie Fawcett.
Key finding: Studied Census-Mortality data over a 20-year period and discovered that among men aged 25 - 64 suicide trends varied by income, with the association between low income and suicide strengthening over the time period studied.

The sixth report (Suicide Prevention in New Zealand: A contemporary perspective) is a summary of the findings in reports 1 - 5. Authors: Dr Sunny Collings, Assoc Prof Annette Beautrais. This was published in May 2005, to coincide with the release of the consultation on the Draft New Zealand Suicide Prevention Strategy.

ENDS


Social factors do have an influence on suicide, according to a report released today by the Associate Health Minister Jim Anderton.
www.moh.govt.nz/suicideprevention

Background – Suicide Facts

In 2002 - the most recent year for which there are official suicide statistics - 460 people died by suicide. In 2001 that figure was 507. The suicide rate has declined by 25 percent since a peak in 1998, from 14.3 to 10.7 deaths per 100,000 population in 2002.

Males continue to have a higher suicide rate than females, with 3.2 male suicides to every female suicide per 100,000 population. Females have a higher rate of hospitalisation for intentional self-harm, which is a proxy for attempted suicide.

The rate of suicide was higher for Mäori than non-Mäori; 78 Mäori died by suicide in 2002, a rate of 12.6 per 100,000 compared to 79 in 2001, a rate of 13.4 per 100,000. People aged 20 to 24 had the highest suicide rate, followed by people aged 25 to 29.

Although New Zealand young people continue to have a high rate of suicide internationally, 80 percent of New Zealanders who died by suicide in 2002 were aged 25 years or older. This was why there was a change in emphasis earlier this year, extending New Zealand's youth suicide prevention strategy into an all-ages strategy. The strategy is expected to be finalised mid 2006 and an action plan will then be developed.

The Government has earmarked $10.3 million (GST excl.) for suicide prevention spending between 2005 to 2009. This includes funding for Lifeline counselling training contracts, Kia Piki support and training, SPINZ – the national suicide prevention information service, research into the causes and costs of suicide, and the Support for Families initiative. A further $6 million (GST excl.) will be spent in the same period on the National Depression Initiative.

Other government agencies' such as ACC, Police, Corrections, and Ministries of Youth Development, Education and Social Development, also undertake suicide prevention work within their allocated budgets. Additional services and resources are provided through the mental health services provided by DHBs.

The reports and detailed information on the Government's suicide prevention initiatives are available on the Ministry of Health website: www.moh.govt.co/suicide prevention

ENDS

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