Why are suicide rates important?

Suicide and intentional self-harm are significant public health issues in Australia (AIHW: Harrison and Henley 2014). Suicide is associated with a number of interacting factors that are related to individual mental health, family and social circumstances. Social risk factors that have been identified for adolescent suicide include parental separation, divorce and family discord, as well as child abuse, bullying and peer victimisation (Brodsky et al. 2008; Klomek et al. 2008). Adolescence and young adulthood is also the time in life when many mental illnesses develop with young people reporting highest incidence of diagnosable symptoms of mental illness (ABS 2008; Patel et al. 2007), which has been linked to an increased risk of suicidal intentions and behaviour (AIHW 2014).

Do rates vary across population groups?

In 2012, there were 8.6 suicides per 100,000 young aged 12–24 people in Australia. The suicide rate increased with age, and among 18–24 year olds was almost 3 times as high as 12–17 year olds (11.8 per 100,000 compared to 4.3 per 100,000). The rate of suicide among young males was almost twice that of young females (10.9 and 6.1 per 100,000 respectively). The greatest disparity in suicide rates was between Indigenous and Other Australian young people.  In 2008–12, the suicide rate amongst Indigenous young people was over 4 times as high as Other Australian young people (30.1 per 100,000 compared to 7.2 per 100,000). 

Has there been a change over time?

In 2012 the rate was similar (8.6 per 100,000) to that in 2003 (8.8 per 100,000). In the intervening years the rate was lowest in 2009 at 7.2 per 100,000 and highest in 2011 at 8.9 per 100,000. The suicide rate for 12–17 year olds was lowest in 2004 (2 per 100,000) and highest in 2010 (4.7 per 100,000). For 18–24 year olds, the rate was lowest in 2009 (10.3 per 100,000) and highest in 2003 (13.3 per 100,000).

The suicide rate for young males varied from 14.2 per 100,000 in 2003 to its lowest point in 2009 (10.5 per 100,000). The rate among young females ranged from 3.2 per 100,000 in 2003 to 6.1 per 100,000 in 2012.

The suicide rate among Indigenous young people has increased from 25 per 100,000 in 2003–07 to 30 per 100,000 in 2008–12. Comparative rates for Other Australian young people were 7.6 per 100,000 in 2003–2007 and 7.2 per 100,000 in 2008–12.

It should be noted that data for 2011 and 2012 are based on revised and preliminary versions of the cause of death data, and are subject to revision (see Source data tables: NYIF indicators for more information).

Suicidal behaviours

According to the Second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, about 1 in 13 (7.5%) 12-17 year olds (equivalent to around 128,000 young people) had seriously considered attempting suicide in the previous 12 months. The rate was twice as high for females (10.7%) as males (4.5%). These rates may be an underestimate, as in response to the question on suicidal ideation 4.7% of males and 6.6% of females aged 12-17 year olds ‘preferred not to say’. The equivalent of 41,000 12-17 year olds (2.4%) reported having attempted suicide in the previous 12 months (Lawrence et al. 2015). Suicidal behaviours were strongly associated with mental disorder, particularly major depressive disorder (Lawrence et al. 2015).

Similarly, the 2007 Mental Health Survey found that young females (aged 16-24) were the group most suicidal (5.1%) in the previous 12 months (Slade et al. 2009).

Helpline services available to assist young people at risk of suicide include:

Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800

Suicide Call Back Service: 1300 659 467.