About suicide

About suicide

What is ‘suicide’?

According to the World Health Organisation, suicide is the act of deliberately killing oneself.
For a death to be considered a suicide, three criteria need to be met:
1. The death must be due to unnatural causes, such as injury, poisoning or suffocation rather than an illness;
2. The actions which result in death must be self-inflicted;
3. The person who injures himself or herself must have had the intention to die.

What is ‘suicidal ideation’?

Suicidal ideation refers to thoughts that life isn’t worth living. It can range in intensity, from fleeting thoughts to concrete, well thought-out plans for killing oneself, or, a complete preoccupation with wanting to die. Suicidal ideation does not always lead to suicide or attempted suicide, but should always be taken seriously.

What is ‘attempted suicide’?

Attempted suicide refers to self-inflicted harm where death does not occur, but where the intention of the person was to cause a fatal outcome. In some cases it can be difficult to determine if individual acts of self-injury were intended to result in death. The person themselves may be unsure exactly why they undertook the act.

Estimates of the rates of attempted suicide are usually based on either admissions to hospital, or self-reported acts when people are surveyed. Many incidents of attempted suicide do not result in hospital admission, either because people either do not seek treatment for their injury, or they visit a general practitioner rather than a public health service. Self-reported rates of suicide attempt may be unreliable because of a reluctance to report, or because people may be unclear about the reasons for and circumstances of the incident.

What is ‘self-harm’?

Self-harm is a deliberate act of self-inflicted injury intended to cause physical pain as a means of managing difficult emotions, or as a way of communicating distress to others.

Self-harm is different from suicidal behaviour, but some people who self-harm are also suicidal or can become suicidal. Acts of self-harm should always be taken seriously as this can be physically dangerous and may also indicate an underlying mental health problem.

How often does suicide occur in Australia?

Rates of suicide are recorded and published every year by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Current rates can be ascertained from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Catalogue 3303.0 Cause of Death Australia, 2017 released September 2018, accessible here: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/3303.0  

Suicide continues to be a prominent public health concern. Suicide rates in Australia peaked in the early 1960s, declining throughout the 1980s and climbed towards the late 1990s. Rates have been lower since that time.

Over a five year period from 2013 to 2017, the average number of suicide deaths per year was 2,918. In 2017, preliminary data showed a total of 3,128 deaths by suicide (age-specific suicide rate 12.7 per 100,000), 2,348 males (19.2 per 100,000) and 780 females (6.3 per 100,000). There were 2,866 deaths in 2016 (11.8 per 100,000) and 3,065 deaths in 2015 (12.9 per 100,000).

In 2017, preliminary data showed an average of 8.57 deaths by suicide in Australia each day.

The graph below presents the most recent account of rates of suicide per year in Australia, as extracted from the ABS report listed above. For further information, visit the Mindframe website.

(NOTE: Please read the section below on interpreting statistics.)

Graphs illustrating suicide rates by age are available on the Mindframe website

Statistically, who is more likely to be at risk of suicide?

People with a previous history of attempted suicide are at greatest risk of suicide. Similarly, those who are bereaved by suicide are at a higher risk.

Mental disorders such as major depression, psychotic illnesses and eating disorders are associated with an increased risk of suicide, especially after discharge from hospital or when treatment has been reduced. People with alcohol or drug abuse problems also have a higher risk of dying by suicide than the general population.

For those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, the relative age-standardised suicide rate is higher than those in the non-Indigenous population. Young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are around 4-5 times more likely to die by suicide than are other young Australians in the same age range.

With the exception of those aged over 85, there has been a trend towards men in their middle years (i.e. 30-49) having the highest rates of suicide in more recent years. Youth suicide has decreased by around 50% since the late 1990s. From 1980 onwards, there has not been any one age group of females that has consistently had a higher rate of suicide than other age groups. Child suicide (5-15 years' old) is a rare event in Australia.

Rates have always been higher among males compared to females (currently at a ratio of around 3:1). This is consistent across all states and territories, and also similar to trends observed in other Western countries.

Suicide rates for men born outside Australia are slightly lower than for Australian-born men, whereas corresponding rates for women are very similar.

Statistically, who is more likely to be at risk of self-harm?

According to hospitals data, females are more likely to deliberately injure themselves than males.

For males and females, the highest rate of deliberate self-harm tends to occur for those aged from their teens to middle age.

Recent rates of hospitalised self-harm are much lower among older men and women over 65 and children under 14 years than other age groups. However, the average length of stay in hospital due to self-harm was highest among elderly people.

For further information, see the Supporting Fact Sheet: Risks and warning signs for suicide.


A note about using statistics
Be careful about how you interpret suicide and self-harm information.
The reliability of suicide statistics is affected by a number of factors including differences in state-specific reporting methods across Australia, and delays in the post-mortem processing of possible suicides by coroners.

The ABS has instituted a significant quality assurance process to improve the quality of coding of deaths data. ABS advises that care should be taken in comparing 2011 suicide data with all suicide data from 2006 - 2010, as these data have been subject to a quality improvement review process.
Due to the relatively small numbers of suicides in some states and territories, even one or two deaths can have a significant impact on standardised suicide rates. Thus comparisons across Australia must be done cautiously.

Data on suicides can be reported in different ways, including: the number of people who died by suicide; the age-standardised suicide rate, and as a percentage of deaths from all causes.

The comparison of international suicide statistics can be very difficult due to differences in procedures for coronial reporting and classifying deaths, definitions, time periods, and the level of undercounting.