Demographic breakdown - suicide across the population

Those committing suicide in New Zealand range across all ages, genders and ethnicity.

  • More males complete suicide
  • More females attempt suicide
  • Stats falling slightly for completed suicide
  • 75% deaths in adult age group
  • As the proportion of older people increase, suicide rates in that age group are predicted to rise accordingly.
Throughout the western world suicide rates are rising, reflecting a range of social breakdowns and the loss of supportive guidelines that gave an individual a sense of family, community, purpose and meaning.

Here is a brief summary of the key points on suicide in New Zealand, involving all ages, 2002 figures.

These key points can be found on the Ministry of Health's NZ Health Information Service website. This is an excellent resource for health statistics and the address is listed below.

A total of 460 people died by suicide, compared with 507 in 2001 and 458 in 2000.

The suicide mortality rate declined by 25 percent since a peak in 1998, from 14.3 to 10.7 deaths per 100,000 population.

When considering life-cycle age groups, for females, 15 to 24-year-olds had the highest age-specific suicide rate (11.0 per 100,000 population), while for males 25 to 44-year-olds had the highest age-specific suicide rate (29.5 per 100,000 population).

The age-standardised suicide rate for the total population was 10.7 per 100,000 population, with males continuing to have a higher rate than females (16.6 compared to 5.2 per 100,000 population).

The all-ages sex ratio for the suicide rate in New Zealand was 3.2 male suicides to every female suicide per 100,000 population.

The rate of suicide was higher for Maori than for non-Maori. For Maori males and females the age-standardised rates were 19.7 and 5.9 deaths respectively per 100,000 population, and for non-Maori males and females they were 15.6 and 4.8 deaths per 100,000 population respectively.

People aged 20?24 years had the highest age-specific suicide rate for five-year age groups (20.7 deaths per 100,000 population), followed by people aged 25?29 years (20.6 deaths per 100,000 population).

In 2002, New Zealand's all-age suicide rates for males and females were the sixth highest among OECD countries with comparable data.

The hospitalisation rate for intentional self-harm for the total population was 128.2 cases per 100,000 population, compared with 129.2 cases per 100,000 population in the 2000/01 financial year

The female-to-male rate ratio for intentional self-harm in New Zealand was 1.95 female hospitalisations to every male hospitalisation per 100,000 population.

New Zealand Suicide and Health Statistics can be found here.

The risk of suicide varies with age. Suicide is very rare amongst children and young adolescents under the age of 15 years, but appears to be increasing. Most suicides in this age groups occur in 13- and 14-year-olds, with twice as many deaths occurring amongst 14-year-olds than 13-year-olds.

Children and younger adolescents may be less likely to make suicide attempts, because they lack the cognitive ability to plan and conduct a suicide attempt. They lack access to means of suicide, and are less likely to have developed depression and substance abuse problems, associated with suicidal behaviour. However child counsellors report seeing depressed children regularly, and some express no desire to continue living.

The risk factors for suicide amongst young adolescents under 15 years, appear to be the same as those for older youth. See the New Zealand Government's 'toolkit' for Suicide Prevention

15 - 24 years Age Group
  • In 2000, there were 31 deaths in males aged 15 to 19, and 50 deaths in males aged 20 to 24; there were 11 deaths in females aged 15 to19, and four in females aged 20 to 24. There were four deaths in people under 15 years of age.
  • In 2000, there were six youth suicide deaths among Pacific people, and five among Asian people.
The youth suicide rate has now decreased for five consecutive years. The numbers and rates for 2000 are the lowest since 1986. The numbers and rates of youth suicides have dropped for both Maori and non-Maori, reflecting a reduction in the number of female suicide deaths. There has been a slight increase in the Maori male rate, and a slight decrease in the non-Maori male rate compared with 1999.

Graphs showing suicide across the population may be viewed here

It is important to recognise that most youth suicides do not occur amongst teenagers, nor amongst high school students.
Rather, the majority of youth suicide deaths occur amongst young people aged 18 to 24, who have left school. It is estimated that only 15 percent of youth suicides are accounted for by high school students.

Females of high school age, while not at high risk of completing suicide, tend to be at a high risk of non-fatal, suicide attempt behaviour. This higher risk may be due to some females developing depressive and anxiety disorders, earlier than males. Programmes designed to help teachers and counsellors improve recognition of depression and suicidal behaviour among school students, may reduce suicide attempt behaviour among young females.

There are high suicide rates amongst adults and especially, older adult males. This group contains the clear majority of all suicide deaths. Adults are classed as those who are 25 years and over. Their deaths account for about 75% of all suicide deaths in New Zealand.

Suicide rates for males are higher right across the population. But male adults aged 25-29, have the highest rates of the whole population.

The male rates drop off only very slowly. By 40 years of age, male adults suicide rates are down as far as they were for the male youth suicide figures. (And people consider those alarming.) They stay at this high level until retirement age, when they drop slightly. Then from 70 years onwards they rise exponentially again.

Adult women do not complete suicide at such high rates, and make up a little over ten percent of all suicide deaths annually. However they attempt suicide at a disturbingly high rate.

Adult women's suicide attempt rates are higher than adult men's attempt rates. For example in 1999/2000, there were 1389 male hospitalisations compared to 2378 female hospitalisations, across the population. This is due to females choosing methods which generally are less fatal, but still serious enough to require hospitalisation. (It should be noted that attempt figures are fraught with inaccuracy, as they can only be based on hospitalisations recorded as self-harm.)

Older adults.
There are high suicide rates amongst older adult males, but also a significant number of female deaths. In 1998, 47 men and 16 women over 65 years completed suicide.

The progressive ageing of populations in the industrialised world, suggests that as the proportion of older people increase, suicide rates in that age group will rise accordingly.