Deaths by suicide amongst Indigenous Australians

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).

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

From 2001 to 2018, age-standardised rates:

  • fluctuated in Indigenous males from a low of 25.1 deaths per 100,000 population (75 deaths) in 2008 to 39.2 in 2002 and 2010, and to a recent high of 38.1 (129 deaths) in 2018
  • 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 14.5 (40 deaths) in 2011
  • for Indigenous people ranged from 1.4 to 2.3 times that of non-Indigenous Australians.

In 2018:

  • suicide accounted for 5.3% of all deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples while the comparable proportion for non-Indigenous Australians was 1.9%
  • the proportion of deaths by suicide for males compared with females is similar between Indigenous and non-Indigenous (approximately 75% male and 25% 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. 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 in 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.

Reference

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.