Promoting mental health, demystifying mental illness, countering stigma and discrimination

Suicide & Mental Health

The act of suicide (the intentional taking of one's own life) has traumatic effects for all people close to the person who has attempted or succeeded in taking their own life.  In New Zealand, there are around 500 deaths by sucide per year. Death by suicide is more common in New Zealand than death by motor vehicle accident.

The risk of suicide is highest among youth (NZ has the highest youth suicide in the developed world) and the elderly.  More males than females take their lives, however more females make more unsuccessful attempts at suicide than do males.  The rate for single people is about twice that of married people.

Suicide and Mental Health

Within literature concerning suicide, the strongest identified risk factor for suicidal behavior appears to be the presence of psychiatric disorders.

About 20% of New Zealanders are affected by some form of mental illness at some time in their lives.  Approximately 5% are affected by depression and 3% by illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Suicide is the main cause of premature death among people with mental illness.  Over 10% of those affected kill themselves within the first ten years of diagnosis.  Most young people who have committed suicide have experienced some form of mental illness.  Most suicides however, could have been prevented.

Causes of Suicide

For some people with a serious mental illness, the pain and distress of the illness may be such that they may have an overwhelming desire to end it all.  For others it may be a lifestyle of alienation, loneliness, isolation, abuse, misery or adverse life experiences such as losses of various kinds.

The following may be contributing factors:


There is no doubt that depression is a major cause of suicide.  Depression may be the result of the illness itself, the person realizing how severe their illness is, or occasionally as a side effect of medication.

Psychotic Symptoms

Some people may commit suicide because they are confused or even directed by their hallucinations, or to bring themselves relief from untreated symptoms.

Alcohol and/or other Drugs

The misuse of alcohol and drugs such as marijuana, heroin and amphetamines is closely related to suicidal behavior.

Warning signs to be aware of

  • Increased alcohol and/or other drugs
  • Disinterest in possessions - giving away prized belongings
  • Expressions of hopelessness and/or helplessness
  • Withdrawing from family, friends and general social environments
  • Irrational, bizarre behavior
  • Overwhelming sense of guilt, shame or rejection
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Severe drop in school/work performance
  • Verbal expressions or suicidal intent or depression
  • Death or suicide themes dominate written, artistic or creative work
  • Lack of interest in the future
  • Excessive promiscuousness or loss of interest in sex
  • Tidying up one's personal affairs

How can one help?

If you are aware of someone who is seriously thinking of committing suicide, it is essential that you take action.  It is important to act quickly, reach out and communicate your concerns openly and non-judgmentally with the person concerned.  It is important too to provide support and hope and encouragement for the person to seek professional help from their doctor or other health professional.

Treatment and further prevention

There is no single therapy or treatment that is always successful in reducing the likelihood of suicide.  An important first step is to treat any mental disorders leading to suicidal thoughts and actions.  Currently the most successful ways to treat mental illnesses are through medications and psychosocial rehabilitation.  Do discuss these with health professionals and endeavour to develop a treatment plan that involves the person concerned, family and friends and health professionals.

For more information you may wish to contact:

Suicide Prevention in New Zealand (SPINZ)
64 Valley Road, Auckland.
P O Box 10318.
Tel:  09 638-7364

Website: SPINZ

The Trippin website is a mental health initiative with youth by the Taranaki Child & Adolescent Mental Health Team

Download a suicide fact sheet here

Like Minds Taranaki
3rd floor Stirling Sports Building
50-54 Devon Street West
New Plymouth 4340
Tel: 06 759 0966 or 0800 4 like minds

Like Minds Taranaki gratefully acknowledges the financial support of this website by the Ministry of Health

Feedback is always welcome
Like Minds Taranaki, 06-759-0966, email:

Taranaki Mental Health Sector