Two sources currently report national data on suicide deaths in Australia.

  1. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is the independent statutory authority responsible for the routine collation of data on suicide and other causes of death. The ABS adheres to strict coding rules and data handling legislation for all data and publicly releases the annual Causes of Death, Australia publication.
  2. The National Coroners Information System (NCIS) is a national internet-based data storage and retrieval system for Australian coronial cases.
The Commonwealth Response1 to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee report The Hidden Toll: Suicide in Australia notes the many inter-related factors that contribute to possible under-reporting and outlines activity to improve reporting quality and mechanisms. The Australian Government continues to support data improvements by the ABS through membership of the Mortality Statistics Advisory Group and other forums.

The Commonwealth is a member of the National Committee for Standardised Reporting of Suicide. This Committee is an initiative of Suicide Prevention Australia and brings together a collective of relevant stakeholders to examine priorities in suicide data collection and system improvements, but does not hold suicide data itself.

Recommendations 1 and 2

Recommendation 1

The Committee recommends that the National Committee for the Standardised Reporting of Suicide consider options for, and the feasibility of, extending the scope of social and demographic suicide data routinely collected and reported on, to include information on:
  • ethnicity
  • culture
  • geography
  • educational attainment
  • employment status and
  • socio-economic status. (para 2.23)

Recommendation 2

The Committee recommends that the National Committee for the Standardised Reporting of Suicide consider options for providing increased access to disaggregated suicide data. (para 2.24)Top of page

Response

The Australian Government supports these recommendations in principle and appreciates the potential value of additional high quality statistics. Some of the additional social and demographic data recommended by the Standing Committee, particularly information relating to country of birth, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin and geographical location is currently collected. However reporting and increased disaggregation is, in some cases, constrained by data quality, national privacy and data handling legislation and essential procedures required to protect individual confidentiality.

It is noted that in the Causes of Death Australia 2011, the ABS released for the first time, data relating to death by suicide for young people under the age of 15. While the suicide deaths of young people in this age group had been included in the ABS reporting of total numbers of suicide, they had not been previously released as a separate age group due to issues of confidentiality given the relatively small numbers, but also due to their sensitive nature. The ABS worked with the National Committee for Standardised reporting on suicide to facilitate a release process for these data.

In other cases, the information recommended, particularly in relation to culture, education attainment, employment status and individual socio-economic status is not collected consistently within jurisdictional infrastructure and does not currently support robust statistical reporting. The Australian Government acknowledges the efforts of national committees such as the National Committee for the Standardised Reporting of Suicide in progressing improvements in data collection and reporting and will look to address both information gap and data access issues through Commonwealth membership in such committees.

The Government also notes that the COAG Working Group on Mental Health Reform will examine the need for a mental health data-sharing protocol for consideration by COAG by mid-2013. As a longer-term initiative, the Working Group will also assess the value of the large number of national mental health data sets to determine whether they are providing information that is person-centred, whole-of-life and can demonstrate whether the range of services necessary for an individual to keep well are being provided. The Working Group may identify opportunities to rationalise or amend data sets and opportunities to improve linkages across collections. As well as engaging closely with the Expert Reference Group, the Working Group may draw on technical data expertise as required.

Footnotes

1 Commonwealth Response to The Hidden Toll: Suicide in Australia, 2010. Available at www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/mental-pubs-c-commresp-suicide