We must act now to save lives, ABS data confirms

Tuesday, 25 October, 2022

We must act now to save lives, ABS data confirms

Data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has revealed 3144 Australians died by suicide in 2021, compared to 3139 in 2020. Sadly, eight to nine people die by suicide every day.

There were 2358 male suicides (18.2 deaths per 100,000) and 786 female suicide deaths (6.1 per 100,000). Suicide was the 15th leading cause of death overall in 2021. Suicide was the most common cause of death for young people aged 15–24 years. In 2021, 219 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people died by suicide.

Suicide Prevention Australia CEO Nieves Murray said, “Suicide rates remained stubbornly high in 2021. One death by suicide is one too many and more needs to be done to turn the trend towards zero.

“Data is incredibly important in suicide prevention. It helps inform how we approach suicide prevention and influences service and program delivery. Access to causes of death data is part of the picture, but we also need more timely data on suicide attempts to better understand and respond to distress in our communities.

“It’s also essential to remember those touched by suicide and how this data may impact them today.”

Key statistics:

  • The median age of death by suicide was 44.8 years.
  • The suicide rate for males decreased by 2.3% and the suicide rate for females increased by 5%. Consistent with previous years, males are around three times more likely to die by suicide than females.
  • The median age of death by suicide of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples was 30.2 years, more than a decade younger than the median age of death by suicide for the general population of 44.8 years. The gap is widening compared to last year (31.3 vs 43.5).

Risk factors:

  • Almost 90% of people who died by suicide had at least one risk factor reported. 
  • Psychosocial risk factors were the most commonly reported risk factor and were present in almost two-thirds of deaths of people who died by suicide.
  • Mental and behavioural disorders were present in almost 63% of deaths of people who died by suicide.
  • People who died by suicide had an average of three to four risk factors mentioned.

Murray continued, “The ABS Causes of Death data is 10–22 months old and cannot be our only indicator in suicide prevention.

“We’re seeing worrying indications from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) Suicide and Self-harm Monitoring System.

“In NSW and Victoria, the total number of people who died by suicide in July 2022 was higher than at the same time in the last three years. Only NSW and Victoria publicly report recent deaths by suicide and when these figures are combined the two states represent 57% of the national population.

“Our annual State of the Nation report released last month revealed 70% of Australians have experienced elevated distress beyond their normal levels compared with this time last year.

“Our sector is working harder than ever before with 88% of providers reporting an increase in demand over the past 12 months.

“We are at a critical juncture for suicide prevention. Research shows it’s two to three years after a natural or economic disaster that suicide rates can increase. We saw this with increases to suicide rates during the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s, and we’ve seen it after bushfires, Cyclone Yasi and the Christchurch earthquake.

“Now, we’re emerging from a global pandemic, the rising cost of living and mortgages are set to increase financial, housing and relationship stress, we’re facing geo-political tensions and compounding environmental disasters. It’s critical the Australian Government urgently focuses on suicide prevention to keep suicide rates from rising during this challenging time.

“It’s time to act. We need to implement smart policy reform now. We can’t be complacent.

“We are calling on the Australian Government to urgently consider a National Suicide Prevention Act as a matter of priority.

“Since the introduction of the 2006 Basic Act for Suicide Prevention in Japan, suicide deaths have fallen by about 40% in the past 15 years and the number of suicides nationwide hit a 40-year low in 2019.

“An Act would ensure that every government department, whether it’s housing, education, social security or health, must look at their policies and priorities through a suicide prevention lens. This is a critical step in protecting our community at a time when it’s needed most.

“It’s important to note that each number presented in this data represents a life lost which was valued and will be missed.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or suicidal thoughts, call Lifeline on 131 114 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.

Image credit: iStock.com/Piyapong Thongcharoen

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