Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show 2,861 people died from suicide in 2014, up from 2,335 in the previous report, released in 2009.
This continues an upward trend and is at the highest rate in ten years. The data also shows that men account for over three quarters of all deaths by suicide, and that suicide remains the leading cause of death in people aged 15-34, contributing more than a quarter of all deaths in these age groups. For our Indigenous community, the suicide rate is double that of non-Indigenous people.
Lifeline Australia described the situation as an emergency and said the ABS figures meant there was almost eight suicides every day or one every three hours.
Lifeline CEO Pete Schmigel said, “Devastating is the only way to describe the increase in deaths by suicide in Australia.”
“We also cannot forget that behind these numbers are tragic stories of trauma and heartache for mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends, colleagues and whole communities.”
Recent media reports highlight the challenges faced in the construction industry and in indigenous communities.
(1) Construction industry
Journalist Peter Munro wrote an article “Hard times: the suicide scourge among Australian tradies.”
The following quotes are taken from his article.
Suicide among construction workers – who are almost exclusively men – aged 15 to 24 is more than twice as high as other young males, according to the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention.
Every two days in Australia, a construction worker kills himself. They’re six times more likely to die from suicide than through a workplace accident. For those under the age of 24, the increased risk is 10 fold.
Typically, a worker who takes their own life might be separated, divorced or have relationship problems. They tend to be in debt or drink too much. The nature of the job – often involving long hours and commutes, poor job security and physically demanding work – makes social support more difficult. The stigma around mental health problems makes it difficult for these men to talk about their troubles. Bullying can also be a problem.
A 2013 report from the University of Melbourne found people working in industry jobs such as construction and cleaning are at a greater risk of suicide than those in so-called “white collar” jobs in offices. The risk may be symptomatic of wider social and economic disadvantage, including lower education, income and access to health services, the research found. Work insecurity, low social support and high physical demands in such jobs may also play a role.
On the wall of a building site there are numerous reminders to watch out for your personal safety. There’s a single warning about mental health: “Suicide is everyone’s business.”
(2) Indigenous communities
Courtney Bembridge compiled the following report “Sometimes you wonder who’s next?: A fight to stem the rising Indigenous suicide rate.”
Professor Pat Dudgeon from the University of Western Australia said Aboriginal suicide rates are twice as high as other Australians, and they are rising.
“It is a big problem,” she said.
“The statistics that we see do tell a rather grim story, and these include our suicide rates which are increasing, high rates of psychological stress, also rates of incarceration and so on, the list is endless.
“It is an Australian national story. It’s not restricted to one town, one state or one community.”
Aboriginal elder, Helen Kickett said suicide was taking a devastating toll on Aboriginal communities.
“We have had family members take their lives and to this day we don’t know why,” she said.
“They turn to alcohol and drugs and think that’s the way out, but it’s not. It’s only ruining their lives and in the end, they take their lives.”
Journalist Erin Parke reported on the apparent suicide of a ten year old indigenous girl.
She spoke with Gerry Georgatos, who has been tasked by the Federal Government with providing crisis support to families affected by suicide. He said the news had rocked families across the Kimberley region.
“It is tragic that a young child would be so trapped in a sense of hopelessness … it’s a tragedy that needs to be heard across the nation if we are going to extract a dividend of change.”
Mr Georgatos said it was difficult to pinpoint the reasons for the suicide spike.
“It’s the usual contributing factors — I just think it’s becoming a more entrenched feeling of hopelessness,” he said.
“It’s not one particular factor … domestic violence is a factor which cannot be understated.
“In some cases child sexual abuse has contributed as a factor, but the majority of these suicides are intertwined with acute poverty, that translates completely as hopelessness.”
Suicide Prevention Australia chief executive Sue Murray said drastic action was needed to start to reduce the loss of life.
“We must change the way we approach prevention if we are to have any chance of reducing suicides in this country,” she said.