Deaths by suicide, by socioeconomic areas

There is a strong association between socioeconomic status and deaths by suicide. Age-standardised rates and numbers of deaths by suicide tend to be higher for those living in lower socioeconomic areas (more disadvantaged areas). However, it is important to remember that suicide can affect all Australians and each person’s experience is unique; not everyone who lives in these areas will experience suicidal behaviours.

Socioeconomic status classifies individuals according to the socioeconomic characteristics of the area in which they lived prior to their death by suicide. These areas are defined using the ABS Index of Relative Socio-Economic Disadvantage (IRSD), which reflects the average level of socioeconomic disadvantage of the area, rather than individuals (see Technical notes for more information). Variables used in calculating the IRSD index include household income, unemployment and levels of education.

Suicide deaths by socioeconomic area and mechanism, Australia, 2010 to 2018.

The series of line graphs shows age-standardised suicide rates for socioeconomic areas (Quintiles 1 to 5) from 2010 to 2018 for all mechanisms combined. Users can also choose to view age-standardised suicide rates and numbers of deaths by suicide by mechanism, and specified mechanisms as a proportion of all mechanisms, for each socioeconomic area. For all mechanisms combined, suicide rates from 2010 to 2018 generally declined as the level of disadvantage lessened, from Quintile 1 to 5. In the lowest socioeconomic areas (with most disadvantage; Quintile 1), rates ranged between 13.0 and 17.0 deaths per 100,000 population from 2010 to 2018. In the highest socioeconomic areas (least disadvantaged; Quintile 5) rates ranged from 7.8 to 10.0 deaths per 100,000 population.

Highest rates of suicide occur in lowest socioeconomic areas

From 2010 to 2018, age-standardised suicide rates were highest for those who lived in the lowest socioeconomic areas (most disadvantaged areas), and generally decreased as the level of disadvantage lessened. 

In 2018, the overall suicide rate for people living in the lowest socioeconomic (most disadvantaged) areas (15.7 deaths per 100,000 population; Qunitile 1) was almost 1.8 times that of those living in the highest socioeconomic (least disadvantaged) areas (8.8 deaths per 100,000 population; Quintile 5).

As for rates, the number of deaths by suicide for the 5 socioeconomic areas declined as socioeconomic disadvantage decreased.

Suicide rates increased over time in lowest socioeconomic areas

Age-standardised suicide rates increased in those living in the lowest socioeconomic areas from 2010 to 2018, from 13.0 to 15.7 deaths per 100,000 population (Qunitile 1). In contrast, little change was observed for those living in the other socioeconomic areas.

Henley and Harrison (2019) found that over the period 2009–10 to 2015–16, suicide rates increased significantly for those living in the lowest socioeconomic areas (most disadvantaged) by an average 3.5% per year while little change was observed for those in the highest (least disadvantaged) socioeconomic areas (0.2% change per year).

Methods of suicide vary by socioeconomic area

Understanding the methods used for suicide can play an important role in suicide prevention. These data are provided to inform discussion around restriction of access to means as a policy intervention for the prevention of suicide.

Please consider your need to read the following information. If this material raises concerns for you or if you need immediate assistance, please contact a crisis support service, available free of charge, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Please consider the Mindframe guidelines if reporting on these statistics.

The classification system used to code causes of deaths data, ICD-10, uses the term ‘mechanism’ to refer to the external cause of death. Throughout Suicide & self-harm monitoring ‘mechanism’ has been used in data visualisations, while the term ‘method’ has been used in the accompanying text.

Throughout 2010 to 2018, age-standardised suicide rates generally decreased with decreasing socioeconomic disadvantage for hanging (ICD-10 X70) and firearms (ICD-10 X72–X75); however, there was little difference in suicide rates between socioeconomic areas for poisoning excluding gas (ICD-10 X60–X66, X68–X69), poisoning by gas (ICD-10 X67) or other methods (ICD-10 X71, X76–X84, Y87.0).

In 2018, the rate of suicide by hanging for those living in the lowest socioeconomic areas (Qunitile 1) was approximately twice that of those living in the highest socioeconomic areas (Qunitile 5) (10.0 vs 5.2 deaths per 100,000 population). For firearms the suicide rate for those living in the lowest socioeconomic areas (Quintile 1) was more than 4 times as high as that for those living in the highest socioeconomic areas (Quintile 5) (0.9 vs 0.2 deaths per 100,000 population); however, the numbers of deaths were low in both areas. For poisoning by gas and other methods of suicide there was little variation between the highest and lowest socioeconomic areas in 2018.

In contrast to the trends seen in suicide rates, the proportion of deaths by suicide by exposure to poisonous substances excluding gas or other methods tended to increase with decreasing socioeconomic disadvantage while the proportion of deaths by use of firearms tended to decline. There was little difference in proportion of deaths by hanging between socioeconomic areas.

Reference

AIHW: Henley G & Harrison JE 2019. Injury mortality and socioeconomic influence in Australia, 2015–16. Injury research and statistics series no. 128. Cat. no. INJCAT 208. Canberra: AIHW.