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Suicide is a major public health problem, both in Australia and internationally. Approximately 3,000 Australians end their lives each year. While every life lost to suicide is a tragedy, the impacts on family, friends, colleagues, and communities are also profound, far reaching and often long lasting. Suicide is complex and may result from the interaction of many different factors, but it can be prevented. There is a need to shift greater attention to early indicators and supports to reduce suicide attempts and self-harm. This shift requires improved monitoring across the spectrum of suicide behaviours and a better understanding of population and community level risk and protective factors for suicide. With improved data to inform timely and effective evidence-based interventions and support, both suicides and suicide attempts can be prevented.
This is why the Australian government is investing $15 million dollars over 3 years, from 2019–2022, to establish the National Suicide and Self-Harm Monitoring Project; a project that aims to improve the quality, timeliness and comprehensiveness of suicide and self-harm data across Australia. The monitoring project is being implemented by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare with the National Mental Health Commission, the Commonwealth Department of Health and an Expert Advisory Group including representation from people with lived experience of suicide and suicide prevention service providers.
Suicide & self-harm monitoring will bring together, for the first time, existing data collected by sources such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics, government health departments, coronial offices, emergency services as well as research studies and national survey data into a single web-based interactive and integrated platform. Further sources are likely to be added as development work is also being done to improve the breadth, coverage and quality of suicide and self-harm data. Importantly, all data captured and presented in Suicide & self-harm monitoring will adhere to strict data quality, privacy and ethical standards upheld by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.
Suicide & self-harm monitoring also entails the collection of new data such as data on ambulance attendances relating to self-harm behaviours and mental health and it will also bring about data improvements. As an example, the AIHW is working with jurisdictions that do not currently have suicide registers to establish registers so that much more timely data are available.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the AIHW has been collating data each week on the use of mental health services and data on suspected suicides from existing suicide registers, to inform government.
The National Suicide and Self-Harm Monitoring Project will contain a public interface designed to be used by groups such as service providers, researchers and communities to increase their awareness and understanding of suicide and self-harm. In addition, the project will include a separate data analytics platform to assist policy and program development and evaluation in Commonwealth and state and territory governments to conduct detailed analysis of multiple data sources to target suicide prevention activities in response to emerging trends.
The project will ultimately benefit those at risk of suicide as well as those who may experience bereavement from suicide. By providing quality, timely data and information on suicide and self-harm, the project will help governments and communities to direct suicide prevention efforts where the need is greatest and to respond more rapidly to emerging crises. Over time, this will help reduce the number of Australians who die by suicide.
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