National mental health report 2013

Indicator 9: Rates of suicide in the community

Page last updated: 2013

Key messages:

  • In 2011, there were 2,273 suicides in Australia, 76% of which were by males.
  • Nationally, the average annual suicide rate for the period 2007-11 was 10.6 per 100,000 (16.3 per 100,000 for males; 4.9 per 100,000 for females). The Northern Territory stood out as having particularly high rates.
  • The average suicide rate has remained stable since 2003-07. The rate is considerably lower than it was before Australia began its concerted efforts to address suicide through strategic national action.
Arguably, suicides are the starkest indicator of the mental health of the nation. In Australia, suicide ranks as the 15th leading cause of death overall, but it is the leading cause of death for younger people.53 Suicide is a devastating event for the bereaved; it has been estimated that for every suicide at least six people suffer intense grief and between 80 and 100 more may be affected.54

In 2011, there were 2,273 suicides (see Table 10). Three quarters of these suicides (76%) were by males.53

Some caution should be exercised in interpreting suicide trends. The number of suicides can fluctuate considerably, and increases in a given year can be matched by commensurate decreases in the following year. These year-on-year changes can sometimes be misinterpreted as significant, when in fact the underlying trend may be relatively flat. This situation may be exacerbated in states and territories with relatively small numbers of suicides. A common way of reducing the impact of temporal fluctuations in suicides is to convert them to age standardised rates and average them across several years. This allows for more meaningful interpretation of patterns across jurisdictions and over time.

Figure 55 compares the average annual age standardised suicide rates in states and territories for the period 2006-10, using five year averages. In all states and territories, the rate for males was over three times higher than that for females. The Northern Territory stands out as having the highest rate, almost double the national figure (19.3 per 100,000 compared with 10.6 per 100,000). Tasmania's rate (14.1 per 100,000) was 33% higher than the national average, Western Australia's (13.1 per 100,000) was 24% higher, Queensland's (12.4 per 100,000) was 17% higher, and South Australia's (12.0 per 100,000) was 13% higher. Lower than average suicide rates were recorded in New South Wales (8.6 per 100,000), Victoria (9.6 per 100,000) and the Australian Capital Territory (9.9 per 100,000).53 Relative numbers of Indigenous people and people living in rural and remote areas may contribute to these jurisdictional differences.

Figure 56 uses unpublished figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) and shows the national trend in suicide rates from 2003-07 to 2007-11, again using five year averages. The overall rate has been stable at 10.5 per 100,000, the male rate has declined slightly (from 16.7 to 16.3 per 100,000) and the female rate has increased slightly (from 4.6 to 4.8 per 100,000).

The ABS has drawn attention to significant data quality problems that impact on the apparent fluctuation in suicide rates, arising primarily from the increasing number of 'open cases' that are the subject of coroniaI inquiry. Commencing with its 2008 Causes of Death publication55 (released in March 2010), the ABS introduced changes to its coding and reporting practices to reduce the impact of these problems and improve the accuracy of overall statistics on causes of death in Australia. These changes particularly affect suicide statistics. They include revisions to historical data back to 2007. The ABS has cautioned that, as a result of these changes, care should be taken when comparing recent data with earlier years.

Australia was one of the first countries to establish a national suicide prevention strategy, and the above suicide statistics should be considered in that context. In 1995, Australia put in place the National Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy (Here for Life), which was broadened in 1999 with the introduction of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy to consider suicide and suicidal behaviours across the life span. The National Suicide Prevention Strategy has continued since that time, and it aims to:

  • build individual resilience and capacity for self-help
  • improve community strength, resilience and capacity in suicide prevention
  • provide targeted suicide prevention activities
  • implement standards and quality in suicide prevention
  • take a coordinated approach to suicide prevention and
  • improve the evidence base and understanding of suicide prevention.
The National Suicide Prevention Strategy comprises several components, most notably the Living Is For Everyone (LIFE) Framework
which sets out an evidence-based strategic policy framework for suicide prevention that has been agreed to by the Australian Government and all states and territories. In 1998, the year before the National Suicide Prevention Strategy began, the age standardised suicide rate sat at
14.3 per 100, 000.56

Australia's suicide prevention efforts are continuing. In late 2010, against the background of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy, the Australian Government invested an additional $274m over four years to reduce suicide via its Taking Action to Tackle Suicide package. The funding was directed at four key action areas, namely boosting frontline services to support those at risk, investing more in direct suicide prevention and crisis intervention, targeting men who are at heightened risk of suicide but unlikely to seek help, and promoting good mental health and resilience in young people. Top of page

Table 10: Number of suicides by state and territory, 2003-2011

NSWVicQldWASATasACTNTTotal
2003
640
540
466
227
193
69
35
44
2,214
2004
587
521
453
194
178
88
26
51
2,098
2005
549
506
459
203
231
74
35
45
2,102
2006
577
485
494
245
180
72
32
33
2,118
2007
611
474
520
266
205
66
32
55
2,229
2008
620
545
553
300
175
73
36
38
2,341
2009
623
576
525
279
185
79
32
37
2,337
2010
639
536
583
315
197
64
41
45
2,420
2011
566
483
559
306
209
73
34
43
2,273
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Figure 55: Average annual age standardised suicide rates (per 100,000 population) by state and territory, 2007-11

Refer to the following table for a text equivalent of Figure 55: Average annual age standardised suicide rates (per 100,000 population) by state and territory, 2007-11

Text version of figure 55

MalesFemalesPersons
NSW
13.1
4.1
8.6
Vic
14.8
4.5
9.6
Qld
19.1
5.7
12.4
WA
20.0
5.9
13.1
SA
18.9
5.2
12.0
Tas
21.2
7.2
14.1
ACT
15.1
4.9
9.9
NT
31.3
6.2
19.3
National
16.3
4.9
10.6
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Figure 56: Average annual suicide rates (per 100,000 population) by five year period, 2003-07 to 2007-11a

a These figures are based on recent unpublished data provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The 2007-11 figures vary slightly from those presented in Figure 55 due to a different upper age group being used in the calculation of each rate.

Refer to the following table for a text equivalent of Figure 56: Average annual suicide rates (per 100,000 population) by five year period, 2003-07 to 2007-11

Text version of figure 56

MalesFemalesPersons
2003-07
16.7
10.5
4.6
2004-08
16.6
10.4
4.6
2005-09
16.5
10.5
4.7
2006-10
16.5
10.5
4.8
2007-11
16.3
10.5
4.8