The mental health of Australians 2

8.2 Prevalence in different population sub-groups

Page last updated: May 2009

Some sub-groups of the population are considered to be at greater risk of suicidality compared to others. The 12-month prevalence of suicidal ideation, suicide plans and suicide attempts for sub-groups defined by a range of social and demographic characteristics are presented in Table 8-2 and Table 8-3.

8.2.1 Sex and age
8.2.2 Social and demographic characteristics
8.2.3 Suicidality in people with 12-month mental disorders
8.2.4 Suicidality in people with comorbid 12-month mental disorders

8.2.1 Sex and age

The 12-month prevalence of suicidal ideation was higher in females (2.7%) than in males (1.9%). Although there was not a statistically significant difference between the sexes for suicide plans and attempts, both behaviours were slightly higher in females (table 8-2).

This is in contrast to completed suicides in Australia, with males around four times more likely to die from suicide than females2.

When suicidality was examined by age, however, further variations between the sexes were apparent (figure 8-1).

For females, suicidality was highest in those aged 16-24 years (5.1%) and decreased with increasing age, with the exception of females aged 25-34 years, which was lower than for the age groups on either side.

For males, suicidality varied relatively less across age groups. In males aged 25-34 years and 35-44 years the prevalence of suicidality was around 2.5% and across all other age groups it remained close to 1.5%.

Table 8-2: Prevalence of 12-month suicidality by sex

Suicidality Male (%)Female (%)
Suicidal ideation
1.9
2.7
Suicide plans
0.4
0.7
Suicide attempts
0.3
0.5
Any suicidality
1.9
2.8

Note: Any suicidality is lower than the sum as people may have reported more than one type of suicidality.

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Figure 8-1: Prevalence of suicidality by age and sex

Text equivalent below for Figure 8-1: Prevalence of suicidality by age and sex

Text version of figure 8-1

Figures in this description are approximate as they have been read from the graph.
Age group (years)MalesFemales
16-24
1.7
5.1
25-34
2.7
2.4
35-44
2.5
2.4
45-54
1.5
3.5
55-64
1.7
1.4
65-74
1.4
1.2
75+
1.3
0.6
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8.2.2 Social and demographic characteristics

The prevalence of suicidal ideation was over five times higher in people who were separated, divorced or widowed (5.6%) and three times higher in people who had never married (3.5%) compared to those who were married or in de facto relationships (1.1%). Suicide plans were also three times higher in people who had never married and those who were separated, divorced or widowed (both 0.9%) compared to those who were married or in de-facto relationships (0.3%). Suicide attempts were highest among those who had never married (0.7%).

The prevalence of suicidal ideation, plans and attempts among unemployed people (3.8%, 0.6% and 0.8%, respectively) was twice that found among people in employment (1.6%, 0.3% and 0.3% respectively). However, suicidal ideation, suicide plans and suicide attempts were more commonly reported by people not participating in the labour force (5.1% and 1.6% and 0.9% respectively). Those not in the labour force represented a diverse group of people, which includes students, people in care-giving roles who are not in employment, retired people and those on long-term disability or sickness benefits.

People who did not complete school and people with post-school qualifications were more likely to have made suicide plans in the previous 12 months (0.6% and 0.8% respectively) compared to those with only a school qualification (0.1%). There was no relationship between suicidal ideation and level of education. Suicidal ideation, plans and attempts did not vary by people's country of birth.

Table 8-3: Prevalence of 12-month suicidality by marital status, labour force status, education and country of birth

Table 8-3 is separated into 4 smaller tables in this HTML version for accessibility reasons. It is presented as one table in the PDF version.

Marital status

Suicidal ideation (%)Suicide plans (%)Suicide attempt (%)
Married/ de facto
1.1
0.3
0.2
Separated/ divorced/ widowed
5.6
0.9
0.1
Never married
3.5
0.9
0.7

Labour force status

Suicidal ideation (%)Suicide plans (%)Suicide attempt (%)
Employed
1.6
0.3
0.3
Unemployed
3.8
0.6
0.8
Not in the labour force
5.1
1.6
0.9

Education

Suicidal ideation (%)Suicide plans (%)Suicide attempt (%)
Post-school qualification
2.6
0.8
0.4
School qualification only
1.4
0.1
Did not complete school
3.2
0.6

Country of birth

Suicidal ideation (%)Suicide plans (%)Suicide attempt (%)
Australia
2.5
0.6
0.4
Other English-speaking country
1.6
0.6
0.3
Non-English speaking country
2.0
0.4
0.3

Table 8-3 footnotes

Note: Numbers presented for marital status, labour force status and education are age-standardised.
np Not available for publication.

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8.2.3 Suicidality in people with 12-month mental disorders

Suicidality in the previous 12 months was reported by 8.6% of people with a 12-month mental disorder (table 8-4). This is three and a half times higher than suicidality in the general population.

Although experiences of suicidality are much more common in people with mental disorders, these experiences are not confined solely to this group. The prevalence of suicidality in people without a 12-month mental disorder was 0.8% (table 8-5).

In terms of specific classes of disorders, the strongest association was between suicidality and affective disorders. Suicidal ideation was around one half times higher for those with affective disorders than for those with substance use disorders and anxiety disorders (16.8% compared to 10.8% and 8.9% respectively). Suicide plans and attempts were two times higher for affective disorders than for substance use disorders, and even higher than in people with anxiety disorders.

Table 8-4: Prevalence of 12-month suicidality by 12-month mental disorder class

Disorder Suicidal ideation (%)Suicide plan (%)Suicide attempt (%)Any suicidality (%)
Affective disorders
16.8
6.0
4.3
17.4
Anxiety disorders
8.9
2.4
2.1
9.1
Substance use disorders
10.8
3.5
3.1
10.9
Any mental disorder
8.3
2.2
8.6

Note: Totals are lower than sum of disorders as people may have had more than one class of mental disorder.
np Not available for publication.

8.2.4 Suicidality in people with comorbid 12-month mental disorders

There was a strong association between comorbidity of mental disorders and suicidality, with higher suicidality in people with two or more classes of mental disorders in the previous 12 months (table 8-5). The same association was found for suicidal ideation and plans.3 Suicidality in people with mental disorders from all three classes was over twice as high among people with disorders from two classes (39.2% compared to 15.7%), nearly eight times higher than among those with mental disorders from a single class (4.8%) and almost 50 times higher than among those without mental disorders (0.8%).

Table 8-5: Prevalence of 12-month suicidality by 12-month mental disorder comorbidity

Number of disordersSuicidal ideation (%)Suicide plan (%)Suicide attempt (%)Any suicidality (%)
No disorders
0.8
0.2
0.8
One mental disorder class
4.8
0.5
5.1
Two mental disorder classes
15.5
6.6
5.2
15.7
Three mental disorder classes
39.2
14.6
39.2

np Not available for publication, but included in totals where applicable.

Footnotes

2 Refer to Causes of Death, Australia, 2007, Australian Bureau of Statistics, Canberra, 2009
3 Data for the association between comorbidity and suicide attempts was not available for publication.

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