Suicide-41,000 in 20 years

Suicide is a prominent public health problem in Australia, with more than 41,000 Australians committing suicide between 1979 and 1998, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Suicides and Hospitalised Self-Harm in Australia has been produced by the AIHW National Injury Surveillance Unit at the Research Centre for Injury Studies, Flinders University of South Australia.

According to report co-author Dr James Harrison, 'Suicide has become more prominent as a cause of death partly because its incidence has been rising slightly while other external causes of death, such as motor vehicle crashes, have fallen in recent years'.

There were 2,683 suicides registered in Australia in 1998. Summary data for 1999 released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics after completion of the AIHW report show a 7% fall in suicide deaths registered. While welcoming this result, Dr Harrison said it was too early yet to say whether this signified a change in the overall trend.

Overall, the male suicide rate has increased slightly in recent years, mainly because of a rise in rates for the 20-39 age group. Since the 1990s rates for this age group have been the highest of all male age groups.

Female suicide rates have remained more stable over recent years.

Rates for men aged 40-59 years have remained stable, while suicide rates for men over 60 years of age have fallen. Teenage male suicide rates have stabilised following a rapid rise in the 1980s.

'For men, the period when you were born seems to make a difference to chances of suicide at particular ages', Dr Harrison said.

'We have data covering people born in the early 1930s up to the early 1980s. In general, no matter when you were born, there are low suicide rates in childhood up to about 14 years of age, after which rates rise with increasing maturity before levelling off.

'What is disturbing is that it seems that the later you were born, the more likely you are to commit suicide, and the more likely you are to commit suicide earlier in life.

'Reasons for this are not clear, but social factors are likely to be involved. Improvement in the reporting or recording of suicide is not likely to be a sufficient explanation.'

Suicide rates and trends have been generally similar across all States and Territories. Victoria had the lowest suicide rates for men while the highest rates were in the Northern Territory. For women, the lowest rate was in the ACT, and the highest in Queensland. The differences compared to the national average were small, however.

While male suicides in Australia outnumber female suicides by 4 to 1, women tend to outnumber men (4 to 3) for hospital admissions for attempted suicide and self-harm. Poisoning was by far the most common method of self-harm (70% for men, 85% for women).

19 April 2001


Further information:
Dr James Harrison, NISU, 08 8374 0970
Media copies of the report: Publications Officer, tel. 02 6244 1032.