Suicide rate among Māori men rises to highest in decade

The suicide rate among Māori men rose to almost 32 per 100,000 in 2016 - more than double the non-Māori male rate.

Ministry of Health figures showed that among Māori males the suicide rate was 31.7 per 100,000 in 2016, up from 25.6 per 100,000 the preceding year. The figure is the highest rate in the previous decade and more than twice that of the non-Māori male rate of 14.3 per 100,000.

The rate for Māori women and girls fell slightly from 11.2 to 10.1 per 100,000 in 2016, but was still just over double the non-Māori female rate of 4.9 per 100,000.

New Zealand's overall suicide numbers also reached a 10-year high in 2016 with 553 people dying by suicide, up from 529 in 2015.

Suicide prevention worker Rongomaitawhiri Ah-Ching said a lack of connection was contributing to the high rate of suicide for Māori males.

"To put it down to one thing, it would definitely be connection and connection to who they are and to people and to places, and it comes down to whakapapa as well not knowing who they are," she said.

Ms Ah-Ching said Māori communities needed to find their own solutions to the problem.

Tio Sewell, the programme leader for Māori suicide prevention centre Te Au, said Māori suicide rates were higher than non-Māori across all demographic groups.

"Māori deaths by suicide run at double the rate of that of the New Zealand numbers in general, so when we talk about the crisis in terms of suicide in this country, actually where the issue that needs to be dealt is Māori," he said.

Mr Sewell said the government should help local organisations reduce suicide rates in their area.

Māori Council executive director Matthew Tukaki said the figures showed the previous government had failed New Zealanders during its nine years in office and the current government was at risk of doing the same.

Mr Tukaki, a former chair of Suicide Prevention Australia, said there was still no national suicide prevention strategy or plan to replace one that expired in 2016 and meanwhile Māori suicide rates were rising.

"They have increased year on year for the last several years and the government once again has no plan for our people and they seem to shy away from wanting to fund anything we put forward," he said.

He told Morning Report there had been many of promises and statements in relation to suicide prevention but "no rubber meeting the road" at the moment.

"The nub of the problem that we have got in New Zealand today is that there is no national cohesive approach around suicide prevention and that has been the case since 2016 when the last national suicide prevention strategy was retired."

There were countries around the world that had a national approach, and some set national targets, he said.

"In Australia, I set a national target at 50 percent reduction within a decade."

He suggested a few changes that could be implemented straight away.

"We don't have enough capacity in our local communities to respond. That's generally because the investment that is made into iwi-hapu social and mental health services is never enough to complete a quality job. We need to find these programmes and projects adequately.

"We need to build a non-regulated workforce. It takes time to create psychologists and psychotherapists through the current education system but there's no reason why we can't focus our efforts on building a counselling and mentoring network within Māori communities.

"The third thing we can do right now is have a look at how we can connect those different services together because Māori are also a migratory population between urban and rural, provincial areas. so we need to ensure that whatever help is needed, it can flow for people wherever they might be."

Health Minister David Clark told Morning Report the government had set aside money in the Budget for suicide prevention initiatives and responses, in particular counselling for bereaved families.

"There's also some money set aside to improve emergency service responses in the emergency departments in our hospitals, which have around 15,000 people with mental health distress showing up every year," he said.

"Certainly the prevention stuff for families ... is something that's been called for for a long time because those who have been exposed to suicide are some of the most at risk.

"There's also some money set aside for media response services, family and whānau suicide prevention information and, Māori and pacific cultural response and suicide prevention initiatives ... that money is being set aside and will be described in more detail and worked through with the suicide strategy that's coming out."

Dr Clark said the government was working on delivering the suicide prevention plan.

"We need to have this plan in place, the previous government obviously spent a lot of time working on it and received a lot of criticism for the drafts that they put out, we're wanting to get this right but also wanting to do it in a speedy enough way that we have a plan in place."