Māori and Pacific Islanders, young people lead 'horrendous' suicide increase

The biggest rise in suicides in New Zealand in the last year was among young people and Māori and Pacific Islanders. 

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The biggest rise is among young people and Māori and Pacific Islanders. Source: 1 NEWS

Suicide in New Zealand is now at the highest level since records began 12 years ago. 

In the year to June 30, 685 people died by suicide, 17 more than in the previous year.

New Zealand has one of the worst youth suicide rates in the OECD, and across the board it's getting bleaker.

"This is a really horrendous result," said Sean Robinson of the Mental Health Foundation. 

"The time has passed just to raise awareness about suicide. We need to be raising awareness about suicide prevention, about what is working," he said.

The number of Pacific Islanders who took their own lives increased from 7.77 per 100,000 to 11.49.

"The increase in the last year is just devastating," said Monique Faleafa, chief executive of Pasifika support service Le Va.

The Māori rate rose from 23 per 100,000 to 28.

"We need to have a bold and necessary call in Māori suicide prevention. The data is telling us as Māori we have concerns," said Maria Baker, chief executive of Māori health organisation Te Rau Ora.

Young people are disproportionately represented in the figures. Deaths among 15 to 19-year-olds rose from 53 to 73 last year. 

The Chief Censor, David Shanks, thinks that could be down to the rise of suicide themes appearing in media targeting young people - like the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, which prompted a warning from the Mental Health Foundation.

"No one agency can solve this, but if we combine our efforts perhaps we can turn this around," Mr Shanks said. 

While the Government is investing $40 million into suicide prevention over the next four years, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won't commit to a suicide target.

"No-one could produce any evidence to me that a target would do that. And I was concerned, and so was Cabinet, that a target implies that we have a tolerance for suicide. And we do not," Ms Ardern said.