Story: Suicide

Every year more New Zealanders die by their own hand than in car crashes. The reasons behind suicide are always complex, but mental illness is often a major factor. Following a peak in the late 1990s, a number of programmes have led to a reduction in the suicide rate.

Story by Jock Phillips
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Costs of suicide

When people kill themselves, or try to kill themselves, it badly affects their family, friends and workmates. It also costs millions of dollars each year in terms of police, coroners, victim support and health care.


In the 2000s around 500 New Zealanders committed suicide every year. New Zealand’s suicide rate was average internationally, but high compared to other developed countries, especially for those under 30. The rate of suicide among young Māori was particularly high.

New Zealand’s suicide rate peaked in the late 1990s, but has slowly dropped since then.

Suicide motives

The reasons why people kill themselves are complex, but can include:

  • mental illness
  • loneliness and social isolation
  • romantic or marital problems
  • family difficulties
  • lack of work or money
  • serious physical illness
  • alcohol and drug problems.

Preventing suicide

Society used to try to prevent suicide by making laws against it. Since the 1980s there have been many programmes and strategies aimed at reducing the suicide rate. These include providing support to at-risk people and stopping the media reporting details about suicides.

How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'Suicide', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 January 2019)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 5 May 2011