Falling suicide rate heartens but there is more work to do

Warning: This story may be disturbing to some readers. We advise caution.

Unsplash Photo by Leanna Cushman (from RNZ)

Malini Yugendran
Auckland, November 3, 2022

The number of suicides – listed as ‘suspected suicides’ in New Zealand has declined for the third year in succession, according to the Office of the Chief Coroner.

“However, It is important to remember that although it is encouraging to see a continued reduction in the suspected suicide rate, we can only start to determine or consider a trend over a five- to ten-year period,” Director of Suicide Prevention Office Mathew Tukaki said.

According to the figures released by the Chief Corner’s Office on October 25, 2022, the number of suspected suicides stood at 538 during the financial year ending June 30, 2022.

Deputy Chief Coroner Anna Tutton said that the rate is statistically and significantly lower than the average rate over the last 13 financial years.

“This is the third year in a row that there has been a year-on-year reduction in suspected suicide.  I acknowledge and offer my sincere condolences, to the families and friends of all those who have died as a result of suspected suicide in the past year. It is positive to note, however, that the number of suspected deaths by suicide is continuing to fall,” she said.

Consistent with global trend

Mr Tukaki said that the Office recognises all those who have lost loved ones to suspected suicide.

“We are working hard to ensure a significant and sustained reduction in the suicide rate in Aotearoa because this means more New Zealanders are living long and productive lives, and fewer whānau, friends and communities are left grieving,” he said.

The reduction in suspected suicide rates is consistent with international data. Most countries have seen no change or a decrease in the rates of suicides, including across males and females and across age groups, he said.

Maori continue to be disproportionately and negatively affected, and the provisional rate of suspected suicide for Maori was 15.9 per 100,000 this financial year. The rate per 100,000 was 9.9 per 100,000 for Pacific populations and 3.8 per 100,00 for Asian populations.

“The work to prevent suicide spans across government agencies, organisations, businesses, schools, communities, and even within whānau, and this work will continue until we achieve our goal of no suicide in Aotearoa New Zealand,” Mr Tukaki said.

According to the New Zealand Mental Health Organisation, 607 people committed suicide between July 2020 and June 2021 and that suicide rates among Asians rose by 1.8% to 6.5%.

Men are twice more likely to commit suicide.

Malini Yugendran

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

According to 2010 data, New Zealand has the highest youth suicide rate among 41 OECD/EU countries, especially among teenagers aged 15 to 19. The 2019 Youth Rangatahi Smart Survey conducted with 7311 teenagers found that 20.8% of those surveyed had suicidal thoughts and 6.3% attempted suicide. That is about 460 teenagers admitting that they attempted suicide.

Almost all surveys have urged the government to improve mental health care.

Psychedelics and therapy

In recent years, there has been substantial evidence that psychedelic substances with serotonergic effects may provide therapeutic benefits for people suffering from psychiatric issues. Preliminary findings suggest that this new treatment could significantly outperform existing pharmacological and psychological therapies in terms of efficacy.

Psychedelic is defined as “mind-manifesting” and refers to a wide range of drugs that trigger dramatic shifts in perception, emotion, and comprehension. Psychedelics are substances that alter consciousness by acting on the brain’s serotonin receptors.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that can be found in blood platelets and serum. Serotonin serves as a link between satisfaction, happiness, and optimism.

Depression lowers serotonin levels, and antidepressants help to increase serotonin availability to brain cells. LSD, psilocybin (found in “magic” mushrooms), mescaline (found in various cacti), and other psychedelics mimic the action of the neurotransmitter serotonin.

For centuries, various cultures around the world have used naturally occurring psychedelics for religious, spiritual, and medicinal purposes and modern psychedelic science began in 1943, with Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann’s accidental discovery of LSD’s potent psychedelic effects. Initially investigating LSD for medicinal purposes, Hofmann was struck by the dramatic changes in consciousness that it produced even at very low doses. Hofmann found psilocybin as the active ingredient and synthesised it.

Weakening repression barriers

Psychedelics were studied and used in a variety of ways during the 1950s and 1960s with researchers at the time concluding that psychedelics weakened repression barriers and facilitated therapeutic progress. However, the real but manageable risks of psychedelics were exacerbated by reckless recreational use – hippie culture and exaggerated by sensationalistic journalism. As a result, psychedelics were outlawed, and virtually all research was halted. However, the 1990s saw a changing political climate that allowed psychedelics research to resume.

Psychedelics in New Zealand

New Zealand has about 40,000 people taking antidepressants.

This, fuelled by the suicide rate and increase in substance abuse has warranted a fresh solution. Dr Suresh Muthukumaraswamy, a neuro-psycho-pharmacologist and an expert in brain imaging, who was part of the ground-breaking UK studies on psychedelics, leads the University of Auckland’s research on Psychedelics.

His study includes Ketamine and micro-dosing on LSD. Ketamine is an animal and human tranquiliser and is labelled as a Class C illegal drug in New Zealand alongside cannabis and codeine. LSD, Magic Mushrooms (Psilocybin), heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine are all classified as Class A illegal substances, with manufacturers and suppliers facing life sentences.

The research with ketamine saw participants’ depression reduce by 50% or more within a day. LSD micro-dosing is reported to improve mood, creativity, focus, and cognition.

Studies indicate that psilocybin is the active substance in magic mushrooms. could aid in the process of quitting smoking.

Health Warning

The Auckland scientists’ experiments come with a health warning: don’t try this at home. Serotonin syndrome (SS), also known as serotonin toxicity (ST), is a toxicology that can result from exposure to drugs that boost serotonin neurotransmission. Participants in studies are closely monitored to minimise adverse reactions to the psychedelics – and, unlike street users, the drug and dose are controlled, carefully monitored and administered.

Malini Yugendran is an Indian Newslink Reporter based in Auckland.

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