Conflict over Suicide Statistics

Despite New Zealand being an almost idyllic place to live, it's suicide rates, especially for youth, are higher than most other 'developed' countries.
  • Comparing suicide rates is basically open to dispute.
  • New Zealand's recording of suicide is very accurate.
  • New Zealand's statistics are inflated in comparison to other countries because of such careful recording.
  • Comparisons between New Zealand and other countries can not be considered of high value.
New Zealand's overall suicide rate, especially the youth suicide rate, is one of the highest compared to other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.

There is debate about the validity in comparing New Zealand's situation with other countries, and whether or not such comparisons are accurate.

New Zealand is a desirable destination for foreigners to raise their children. It is clean and green. It is safe and slow. It is focused on outdoor activities and community groups.

There are very few guns. There is no war. There is still some trust in neighbours and you can talk to strangers in the community at the park or shops. New Zealand does not have dire poverty on a huge scale. Many people are still church-going, 'God-fearing' types. All in all, it is a nice place to live.

Given all these factors, many are puzzled as to why so many people are depressed and suicidal. It could be argued that it is part of the human condition, whatever the environment. But why are more people suicidal and actually taking their lives here in New Zealand compared to other countries? That doesn't make sense. It's idyllic here, and while not perfect, we have it a lot better than most.

Comparisons with other countries
The selected OECD countries that New Zealand's suicide rates are usually compared to are: Finland, Australia, Canada, USA, Norway, France, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Japan, UK and The Netherlands.

The New Zealand Ministry of Youth Affairs has previously noted that:
'By international standards New Zealand's suicide rate is one of the highest in the world.'

But the Ministry also stated that:
'Comparing international rates of suicide is inherently problematic [open to dispute] given that different methods are used to classify suicide, and because the classification of suicide is, to some degree, culturally determined.'

Methods of reporting suicide death
The process of recording suicides in New Zealand is thorough and efficient and we record statistics that reflect something very close to reality in terms of deaths by suicide. Everyone acknowledges that some deaths, like for example, some motor vehicle accidents, may be suicide but not recorded as such. These are often unable to be verified. However New Zealand's methods of inquiry and record are, on the whole, fastidious.

All complaints and inquiries are recorded in an identical manner throughout the country. This Police policy leads to fairly accurate statistical information. Some deaths must, by law, be reported to Police and then referred to the coroner. These include, among others, where a person appears to have taken his/her own life.

A senior New Zealand police official said he believed that New Zealand's statistics are inflated in comparison to other countries because of such careful New Zealand processing of recording suicide and other deaths. He described New Zealand's National police force as it's strength. The size of the country has allowed New Zealand to have a sole law enforcement unit. This means that all complaints and inquiries are recorded in an identical manner everywhere.

Because the methods of recording, are considered to be more consistent, more thorough and more accurate than other countries, New Zealand's records reflect the local situation more accurately than records in the OECD countries New Zealand is usually compared to. Because of this, comparisons between New Zealand and other countries can not be considered of high value.

Read more about 'Recording Suicide'