Deaths by suicide amongst Indigenous Australians

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Age-standardised suicide rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are substantially higher than those in non-Indigenous Australians. Reducing deaths by suicide and suicidal behaviour among Indigenous Australians is an issue of major concern for many Indigenous communities and a public health priority for all Australian governments.

Numbers of deaths by suicide and age-standardised rates are reported for New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory only (see Technical notes for further information).

Suicide deaths by Indigenous status and sex, selected states and territories, Australia, 2001 to 2019. 

The line graph shows the age-standardised rates of suicide for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people from 2001 to 2019. Users can also choose to view age-standardised rates, numbers of deaths by suicide and deaths by suicide as a proportion of all causes of death for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people by sex. Suicide rates for Indigenous people fluctuated more widely and were higher than those for non-Indigenous people over the period. In 2019, suicide rates for Indigenous Australians, at 27.1 deaths per 100,000 population were more than double the rate for non-Indigenous people, at 12.7 per 100,000 population.

How do suicide rates differ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians?

From 2001 to 2019, age-standardised rates:

  • fluctuated in Indigenous males from a low of 25.1 deaths per 100,000 population (75 deaths) in 2008 to 39.4 (137 deaths) in 2019
  • could not be reported for some years for Indigenous females due to small numbers of deaths by suicide; however, for those years that can be reported, rates fluctuated from 7.2 deaths per 100,000 population (22 deaths) in 2006 to 15.2 (58 deaths) in 2019
  • for Indigenous people ranged from 1.4 to 2.3 times that of non-Indigenous Australians.

In 2019:

  • suicide accounted for 5.7% of all deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples while the comparable proportion for non-Indigenous Australians was 1.9%
  • 30% of all deaths by suicide in Indigenous people were female, this was greater than that seen in the non-Indigenous population (24% females).

Kreisfeld and Harrison (2020) found that over the period 2001–02 to 2015–16, there was an annual average rise of 0.4% in suicide rates for Indigenous males, while over the most recent 5-year period (2011–12 to 2015–16) the annual rate for Indigenous males increased by an average of 6.6%; however, these changes in rates were not statistically significant (see Glossary). For Indigenous females, over the period 2001–02 to 2015–16, modelling showed a statistically significant annual average rise in suicide rates of 5.8%; however, over the most recent 5-year period 2011–12 to 2015–16, rates fell by 2.5% per year, although this finding was not statistically significant (AIHW: Kreisfeld & Harrison 2020).

Caution should be exercised when analysing trends in deaths by suicide for Indigenous Australians due to data quality issues, including the under-identification of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in deaths data and the uncertainties in estimating and projecting the size and structure of the Indigenous population over time. Numbers of deaths by suicide and age-standardised rates are reported for New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory only. Data for Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory have been excluded (see Technical notes for further information). It is also important to remember that age-standardised rates based on only a small number of deaths by suicide will exhibit a large amount of variation and that increases in numbers of deaths by suicide and rates should be treated with caution as improvements in identifying Indigenous status among deaths data may (at least in part) account for the rise in case numbers and rates.

Suicide rates are more than twice as high in young Indigenous Australians compared to non-Indigenous Australians

Suicide contributes to premature mortality in Indigenous Australians, especially in the younger age groups. Data from the National Mortality Database from 2016 to 2019 showed the rates of suicide deaths per 100,000 people among Indigenous Australians were 16.5 and 44.9 in those aged 0–24 and 25–44 years respectively. These rates were 3.2 and 2.7 times as high as in non–Indigenous Australians in the respective age groups (5.2 and 16.6 per 100,000 respectively). This difference was less pronounced in the 45–64 age group, with a suicide rate of 19.3 among Indigenous Australians compared to 17.4 in non-Indigenous Australians. However, non-Indigenous Australians had a higher suicide rate in the 65 and over age group than Indigenous Australians, of 12.8 compared to 6.9 per 100,000.

Suicide deaths also represent a higher proportion of deaths in young Indigenous Australians age groups compared to non-Indigenous Australians. From 2016 to 2019, almost a quarter (24%) of deaths in Indigenous Australians aged 0–24 were due to suicide, compared to 16.7% in non-Indigenous Australians. However, in older age groups, non-Indigenous Australians had a higher proportion of death by suicide than Indigenous Australians. For instance, about 5% of all deaths were attributed to suicide in non-Indigenous Australians aged 45-64 years, compared to 2% in Indigenous Australians.

Suicide deaths by Indigenous status and age groups, selected states and territories, 2016-2019.

This bar chart shows the death by suicide crude rates (per 100,000), number and per cent of all cause of deaths for Indigenous and non-Indigenous, by age group, from 2016–2019. Users can also choose to view by 2001–2005, 2006–2010 and 2011–2015. The crude rate of suicide deaths was higher among the Indigenous age groups compared to non-Indigenous, except in the 65 years and over group where non–Indigenous rates were higher. The number of suicides was higher in non-Indigenous people compared to Indigenous, due to differences in population sizes. The per cent of suicide deaths to all causes of deaths was highest in the Indigenous 0–24 age group and lowest in the Indigenous 65 years and older group.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Causes of Death also showed higher suicide rates among young Indigenous Australians, compared to Non-Indigenous. In 2014 to 2018, the 25-34 year age group had the highest Indigenous suicide rate across most states and territories. The exception was in South Australia where the 35–44 age group had the highest rate (71.9 per 100,000). In Queensland, Indigenous suicide rates in the 35-44 age group were also high compared to other age groups within the same state (43.8 per 100,000), only slightly lower than the 25-34 age group (44.4 per 100,000). In contrast, the 45 years and over group had the lowest Indigenous suicide rates, except in South Australia (16.1 per 100,000) and New South Wales (15.2 per 100,000). 

Deaths from suicide, by Indigenous status and age, selected states and territories, 2014–2018.

This bar chart shows the age-specific rates (per 100,000) for deaths from suicide, for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people by age group, from 2014–2018.  Users can also choose to view by New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Northern Territory and the total of these states and territories. Across all states and territories, Indigenous Australians aged 25–34 years had the highest age-specific rate suicide rate, except in South Australia where Indigenous 35-44 year olds had the highest rate. Non-Indigenous 0–24 year olds had the lowest age-specific suicide rate across all states and territories.

According to the ABS Causes of Deaths data, the aged-standardised suicide rate was higher among both male and female Indigenous Australians compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts, across all states and territories in 2014 to 2018. Nationally, suicide rates in Indigenous males and females were around double that of non-Indigenous. In Western Australia, suicide rates were around three times as high in Indigenous males (54.8) and females (20.9) than non-Indigenous males (19.5) and females (6.8). Indigenous suicide rates in Western Australia vary between different regions. To address this, the Western Australia Mental Health Commission developed the Western Australian Suicide Prevention Framework 2021–2025, to guide government, non-government organisations and communities in preventing suicide in Western Australia (Government of Western Australia Mental Health Commission 2020).

Deaths from suicide, by Indigenous status, sex and selected states and territories, 2014-2018.

This bar chart shows the age-specific rates (per 100,000) for death by suicide among Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, by selected states and territories, from 2014–2018. Users can choose to view by NSW, Qld, WA, SA, NT and the total of these selected states and territories. Age-standardised suicide rates were higher among Indigenous Australians compared to Non-Indigenous across all states and territories. WA had the highest suicide rates (37.9 per 100,000) among Indigenous Australians and NSW had the lowest (17.1). Among Non-Indigenous Australians, QLD had the highest suicide rates (14.6) and NT had the lowest (1.6). The difference in suicide rates between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians was most pronounced in NT, where rates were 16.4 times higher in Indigenous (26.2) than Non-Indigenous (1.6) Australians.

References

AIHW: Kreisfeld R & Harrison JE 2020. Indigenous injury deaths: 2011–12 to 2015–16. Injury research and statistics series no. 130. Cat. no. INJCAT 210. Canberra: AIHW.

Government of Western Australia Mental Health Commission 2020. Western Australian Suicide Prevention Framework 2021–2025. Perth: Mental Health Commission