Suicide prevention: What can primary care do to make a difference?
Bagshaw, S., Collings, S., Ellis, P., & Mathews, R.
In late August, 2017 the Chief Coroner released a sombre statistic – 606 people in New Zealand died by suicide in the past 12 months; an increase for the third consecutive year and almost double the road toll.1 Age-standardised rates by ethnicity reveal that Māori die by suicide at approximately twice the rate of non-Māori.2 Young people are also over-represented in suicide statistics. New Zealand has the highest rate of youth suicide among 41 developed nations, with latest statistics showing that 15.6 adolescents per 100,000 aged 15 to 18 years died by suicide in New Zealand in 2012/13, compared to 3.0 in the United Kingdom, 6.8 in Australia and 7.6 in the United States.3
Clearly we have a problem. There has been much effort from individuals and organisations around New Zealand in suicide prevention, but we are yet to find the right formula for reversing this phenomenon. The reasons for suicide are multifactorial, as are the reasons why it is so challenging to address this on a population level. What we can do, however, is to focus on an intervention, one person at a time.
We asked several experts around New Zealand for their guidance on managing interactions with patients in primary care who are experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviour. This is not intended to be a comprehensive guide, but it is the start of a conversation about suicide that we encourage all health professionals to consider. As individuals, we cannot stop 606 deaths per year, but if each of us intervene in a meaningful way with just one person, that is what can make a difference.