Facts and stats about suicide in Australia

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has released the provisional data for suicide in Australia in 2015. The facts and statistics provide a summary of the major trends in suicide deaths.

Here is a summary:

There were 3,027 deaths due to suicide in 2015 at an age-specific rate of 12.7 per 100,000.
This equates to an average of 8.3 deaths by suicide in Australia each day.
About 76% of those who died by suicide were male, a ratio of more than 3:1.
There were 2,292 male deaths at an age-specific rate of 19.4 per 100,000.
There were 735 female deaths at an age-specific rate of 6.2 per 100,000.
The highest age-specific suicide rate for males in 2015 was observed in the 85+ age group (39.3 per 100,000) with 68 deaths.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are approximately twice as likely to die by suicide as non-indigenous people.
While age-specific suicide rates are lower than the most recent peak in 1997 (14.6 per 100,000) they have increased between 2013 (10.9 per 100,000), 2014 (12.2 per 100,000) and 2015 (12.7 per 100,000)

In Victoria in 2015

  • 654 people died by suicide (501 male; 153 female), which was like the 646 recorded in 2014.
  • The number of suicide deaths was third highest in Australia following NSW (815) and QLD (746)
  • Victoria accounted for almost a quarter of all deaths by suicide in Australia.
  • Over the past 5 years, the suicide rate in Greater Melbourne has remained relatively stable.
  • There has been an increase in the age-standardised rate observed in regions outside of Greater Melbourne.

It is easy to gloss over statistics and not capture the significance of what they reveal. One way to alter this is to ask why.

Why has the age-specific suicide rate increased over the past 3 years?
Why are men 3 times more likely to die by suicide than women?
Why is suicide such a significant issue for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples?
Why are men over the age of 85 choosing to die by suicide?

Why has the age-specific suicide rate increased over the past 3 years?

Some reports suggest that a steep rise in death by suicide among younger women and middle-aged Australians was driving the increase.

The chief executive of Suicide Prevention Australia, Sue Murray, told ABC News this trend was concerning.

“We have seen a 26 percent increase in the suicide rates among women and the numbers of suicides among women (rise) over the last five year period,” Ms Murray said.

“We don’t know why this is occurring, so we need to see the government come on board with investment in research, so we can understand what it is that is bringing about this increase and the way in which [women] are choosing to take their own lives.”

In an article in the Sydney Morning Herald (March 2016), director and chief scientist at the Black Dog Institute Helen Christensen said increased risk averse behaviour among young women could have contributed to the rise in suicide rate, although more research was needed to know.

“Young girls are becoming more assertive and less risk-averse. They’re drinking earlier, smoking earlier … all those associated behaviours might lead to more impulsivity, which might lead to more risk-taking, more injury, more suicide risk,” Professor Christensen said.

Alan Woodward, board director at Suicide Prevention Australia, linked the rise in suicide among middle-aged Australians to deteriorating quality of life, chronic health problems and age-based discrimination.

 Why are men 3 times more likely to die by suicide than women?

It is somewhat paradoxical that women are more likely to suffer from psychological problems, to experience suicidal thoughts and attempt suicide, but men are more likely to die by suicide.

Some researchers believe it to be a question of method. Women who attempt suicide tend to use nonviolent means, such as overdosing. Men often use firearms or hanging, which are more likely to result in death. It appears men are more intent on dying.

Another consideration is impulsivitythe tendency to act without thinking through the consequences. Men are, on the whole, more likely to be impulsive than women. Perhaps this leaves them vulnerable to rash, spur-of-the-moment suicidal behaviour. What is indisputable, alcohol increases impulsivity.

Why is suicide such a significant issue for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples?

Trauma and grief have been identified as significant issues for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and for individuals. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people carry a significant burden of loss and bereavement from an early age, due in part to the high rates of mortality, illness, incarceration, deaths in custody and involuntary hospitalisation among people in their communities.

Alcohol and substance abuse, under-utilisation of health services, as well as disadvantages in social and health conditions, put Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males at high risk of suicide.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males aged 25-34 years have the highest rates of suicide. They are also at a high risk of contagion or imitation of suicidal behaviours in their communities.

Why are men over the age of 85 choosing to die by suicide?

Alongside physical health, social issues such as loneliness, isolation and lack of support all contribute to suicide among older men. But the effect these issues have on someone varies greatly and is dependent on other factors like personality attributes or previous traumatic experiences.

In general, males and older adults tend to have experiences that prepare them to tackle barriers of self-preservation in ways females and younger people do not.

Brian Draper, Professor of Psychiatry, UNSW Australia,  says,

If we’re to get serious about suicide prevention in older men we need to be able to identify those who are suffering in various ways and to allow relief from such suffering – whether it be through friendship, pain relief, spiritual guidance, or treatment of severe clinical depression.

Author: Bruce Rickard

Reflections on Suicide and Staying Alive: My son's suicide changed everything. I felt an obligation to understand why anyone would want to end their life. My regular blog posts explore the causes and prevalence of suicide and what is needed to sustain a healthy mind and a hope-filled future.

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