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Suicidal behaviours are defined as thinking about or planning taking one’s own life (suicidal ideation) or attempting suicide.
Understanding the prevalence of suicidal behaviours in Australia is important as this may help to reduce stigma, increase help-seeking behaviour and improve suicide prevention activities.
Many people experience thoughts of suicide:
- In 2020-21 1 in 6 (16.7% or around 3.3 million) of Australians aged 16–85 had serious thoughts about taking their own life at some point in their lives (ABS 2022).
Yet, while thinking about suicide is common, not everyone goes on to develop a suicide plan or take their own lives. Despite this, it is important to take seriously any person seeking assistance because of suicidal thoughts.
People who experience suicidal ideation and make suicide plans are at increased risk of suicide attempts and those who experience all forms of suicidal thoughts and behaviours are at greater risk of dying by suicide (see Psychosocial risk factors and suicide).
The National Suicide and Self-harm Monitoring Project has funded the collection of data on suicidal behaviours through the National Ambulance Surveillance System. This system uses coded ambulance clinical records from jurisdictional ambulance services across Australia to capture information related to ambulance attendances for mental health and self-harm behaviours (see Ambulance attendances). However, not all people with suicidal behaviours will make contact with these services. Instead, an indication of the prevalence of these behaviours in the community may be derived from surveys of representative samples of the population.
A program of surveys, the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, began in Australia in the late 1990s. The most recent of these surveys was conducted in 2007. In 2020 the National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing was introduced as a component of the wider Intergenerational Health and Mental Health Study. The National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing is being undertaken in two cohorts in 2020–21 and 2021–22 and will measure the 12-month and lifetime prevalence of mental illnesses in Australia for the first time since the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing.
Results for the 2020–21 cohort were released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on 22 July 2022 (ABS 2022). The 95% confidence intervals for estimated numbers and proportions, are included in brackets against the results reported below. The results are not directly comparable with those from the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing as different questions were used.
Results from the 2020–21 cohort of the National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing (ABS 2022) indicate that:
- over 1.5 million (1.3–1.7 million) or 7.7% (6.7–8.7%) of Australians aged 16–85 had made a suicide plan and almost 950,000 (802,500–1.1 million) or 4.8% (4.1–5.5%) had attempted suicide during their lifetime
- females were more likely to be suicidal than males, with a higher prevalence of suicidal thoughts or behaviours in their lifetime (18.7% [16.5–20.9%], compared with 14.5% [12.4–16.6%], respectively) . These findings are in contrast to the data on deaths by suicide, which show that males are more likely than females to die by suicide; visit Deaths by suicide over time
- young people and adults aged 16–34 reported the highest prevalence of suicidal thoughts or behaviours in the 12 months before the administration of the study (5.2% [3.8–6.6%] of people aged 16–34)
- in their lifetime, 38.0% (36.5–39.5%) of Australians aged 16–85 were close to someone who took or attempted to take their own life, while 5.9% (4.9–6.9%) were close to someone who took or attempted to take their own life in the 12 months prior to the study.
For full results visit National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Please note that some of the 12-month prevalence estimates for suicidal thoughts and behaviours have high relative standard error (RSE) and margin of error (MOE), and thus wide confidence intervals and greater uncertainty. These results should be interpreted with caution. Refer to the ABS technical notes on interpretation of results with high RSEs & MOEs (visit National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing methodology).
The 2021–22 cohort of the National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing commenced in December 2021 and will conclude in late 2022.
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2022. National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing – Summary statistics on key mental health issues including the prevalence of mental disorders and the use of services