Ambulance attendances: suicidal and self-harm behaviours

The complete extent of non-fatal suicidal and self-harming behaviours in the community is unknown in Australia. Surveys suggest that many people do not seek medical treatment for self-harm injuries. In addition, suicidal ideation and self-harm can be difficult to identify in national administrative data sets, due to the classifications used. Data on hospitalisations due to intentional self-harm under-report the true incidence of these behaviours in the community, as only those with serious physical or mental health issues are admitted to hospital for further treatment. It is not possible to identify those presenting to Emergency Departments with intentional self-harm and suicide ideation in the national data, though some states and territories have developed methodologies to do so, such as algorithms using information from free-text fields and local codes.

Clinical data from ambulance attendances have the potential to provide a more complete picture of suicidal and self-harm behaviours in Australia, and to identify opportunities for improved intervention or postvention – importantly – at a stage when further harm may be prevented.

The National Ambulance Surveillance System (NASS) is a world-first public health monitoring system providing timely and comprehensive data on ambulance attendances in Australia. The NASS is a partnership between Turning Point, Monash University and jurisdictional ambulance services across Australia. The NASS is funded by the AIHW as a component of the National Suicide and Self-harm Monitoring Project to collate and code monthly ambulance attendances data for participating states and territories for self-harm behaviours (suicidal ideation, suicide attempt, death by suicide, self-injury).