On Wednesday, 29 September, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the latest Causes of Death Data for 2020, which included official suicide data for Australia.
The data showed a decrease of suicide deaths from 3,318 deaths in 2019 (12.9 per 100,000) to 3,139 deaths in 2020 (12.1 per 100,000). This is the lowest national suicide rate recorded since 2016.
However, despite a decrease in the numbers of suicide deaths, there was still an average of eight people per day who died by suicide in 2020 in Australia.
Everymind has analysed and interpreted the data with the guidance of the Australian Bureau of Statistics and, on the day of the data release, held a briefing for media and the suicide prevention sector to provide a summary of the data.
A visual summary of the data, showing the breakdown by gender, age groups, state and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander status is available on the Life in Mind website here.
The reasons people take their own lives are very complex. There is no single reason why a person attempts or dies by suicide. In 2020, more than 90% of people who died by suicide had at least one risk factor reported. Some of the common risk factors were:
- Mood disorders (including depression) (40.3%)
- Acute substance use and intoxication (29.3%) and chronic psychoactive substance use disorders (23.1%). Younger people were more likely to have substance use (both acute toxicity and chronic use) mentioned as a risk factor
- Suicidal ideation (23.5%)
- Problems in spousal relationships (23.2%)
- Personal history of self-harm (22.7%)
- Problems relating to legal circumstances (11.2%) and employment or unemployment (10.1%).
This indicates an ongoing need for a proactive response for people who experience these risk factors.
Despite 2020 being a year marked by disastrous bushfires and global coronavirus pandemic, and initial fears that suicide rates would increase, this was not observed in the official Cause of Death Data for 2020.
For the first time, the ABS was able to capture data related to the pandemic, where it was mentioned in either a police, pathology or coronial report. It found that in 2020 there were 99 people (3.2% of suicide deaths) for whom factors relating to COVID-19 were mentioned, alongside other risk factors (an average of five risk factors per person).
For the 99 people who died by suicide with issues relating to COVID-19:
- 6% also had a mood disorder (including depression)
- 5% also had problems related to un/employment
- 3% also had acute substance use or intoxication
- 3% also had problems related to the social environments including social isolation.
Everymind Director, Dr Jaelea Skehan OAM, noted in a commentary of the data published on Croakey, “Suicidal behaviour is complex, and that increases in distress overall, or an increase in one risk factor, can’t simply be equated with an increase in suicides across the population. Long-term, and real-time, monitoring and proactive approaches that do not wait for distress to worsen are clearly needed and should continue to be a priority.”
It is important to remember that behind these numbers are real lives lost, and families and communities impacted.