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Ministry of Health Encourages Casual Attitude to Suicide

Ministry of Health Encourages Casual Attitude to Suicide

17 August 2012

Suicide Prevention group CASPER has criticised the report on suicide released by the Ministry of Health yesterday.

The numbers show some alarming patterns in suicides which are ignored or downplayed by the Ministry of Health in a way that can only be described as deliberately misleading, according to CASPER CEO Maria Bradshaw.

An analysis of the data released yesterday shows a 95% increase in female youth suicides in the past decade and a 132% increase in Maori female suicides in the same period. The 2010 figures show the Maori youth suicide rate is 263% higher than that of non-Maori. A shocking 71% of the 10-14 year olds who killed themselves in 2010 were Maori.

Instead of communicating a sense of urgency to New Zealanders in relation to the need to take strong action to address this crisis, the Ministry of Health selectively uses data to downplay the figures. Rather than taking one year of data as a baseline for comparisons, the Ministry cherry-picks years that suit the spin they have chosen to put on the figures. Male suicide rates in 2010 are compared with those in 1995 while female suicide rates are compared with those in 1948.

The international comparison data is even more unscientific. The New Zealand 2010 rates are compared to rates from Korea in 2009, Canada in 2004 and Slovakia in 2006. CASPER was easily able to source 2010 suicide data from a range of more appropriate OECD comparator countries and uses those countries most likely to have similar cause of death determination systems, similar social environments and cultural beliefs in relation to suicide to make comparisons. New Zealand’s male youth suicide rate is 70% higher than that of Australia while our female youth rate is over 300% higher.

The 2010 statistics show yet another increase in suicide but are likely to underestimate the true increase given the Ministry have excluded 25 deaths which have provisionally been coded as suicides pending verdict. This is an interesting feature of the Ministry’s annual reporting which sees them claim decreases or small increases each year only to quietly increase the official figures subsequently and then use those amended figures for comparison with similarly underestimated figures the following year. CASPER generally uses the suicide figures released by the Chief Coroner which it considers more reliable than the Ministry’s figures and which are current rather than being two years old like those of the Ministry.

In CASPER’s view, a responsible Health Ministry would be giving an unequivocal message that suicide is a crisis in this country rather than attempting to lull New Zealand families into a false sense of security by giving the impression that our suicide rates are no cause for alarm.

CASPER considers Peter Dunne, Minister with responsibility for Suicide Prevention, should be leading the call for urgent action to reduce suicide in a country where 40% of all the deaths of 15-19 year old girls are suicides, where children as young as six are taking their own lives and where things are getting worse not better. CASPER is calling for Mr Dunne to relinquish a portfolio in which they believe he has neither interest nor ability.

2010 Ministry of Health Suicide Data Shows from 2000 - 2010
• 52% increase in female suicides
• 95% increase in female youth suicides since 2010
• 71% of the 10-14 year olds who died from suicide were Maori.
• 57% of the 10-14 year olds who died from suicide were female and 75% of those girls were Maori.
• 56% of the 15-19 year olds who died from suicide were Maori or Pacific. Of boys in this age group who died by suicide 62% were Maori or Pacific. By contrast, there were no suicides of Maori or Pacific people over the age of 65.
• female Maori suicide rates have increased 132% while non-Maori female suicide rates have increased by 35%.
• Maori male suicide rates have fallen 6% while Non Maori male rates have fallen 18%
• Maori male youth suicides have increased 6% while Maori female suicides have increased 228% since 2000.

International Comparisons
Youth Suicide Rates per 100,000 population 2010
Males 15-19 Females 15-19
Australia 11.4 3.4
US 11.9 3.3
Ireland 12.6 3.7
Canada 12.6 5.2
New Zealand 19.3 13.4

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