In 2010, a senate inquiry (The Hidden Toll: Suicide in Australia) highlighted the potential costs of suicide to individuals, families and communities. Suicide can be defined as the deliberate taking of one's life (Butterworths Concise Australian Legal Dictionary, 1997, Butterworths Sydney). To be classified as a suicide, a death must be recognised as being due to other than natural causes. Detailed information on how deaths are classified as suicide by the ABS can be found in Explanatory Notes 92-94.
This chapter contains summary statistics on suicide deaths registered in Australia, where the underlying cause of death was determined as Intentional self-harm (suicide (X60-X84, Y87.0)). Further information on suicides is presented in the data cubes associated with this publication.
External causes of death are required to be examined by the coroner, who investigates both the mechanism by which a person died, and the intention of the injury (whether accidental, intentional self-harm or assault). For a death to be determined a suicide, it may be established by coronial inquiry that the death resulted from a deliberate act of the deceased with the intention of ending his or her own life (intentional self-harm). In addition to coroner-determined suicides, deaths may also be coded to suicide following further investigation of information on the NCIS. For further information on how a death may be coded to suicide, see Explanatory Note 94.
|Impacts of changes to administrative systems|
Since 2007, the ABS has invested in a revisions program for coronial data which allows additional time for cases to be investigated and determinations on the mechanism and intent of the death to be made. Revisions occur over the two years following the release of preliminary data. Coding practices have also been improved to allow coders to use information available on the National Coronial Information System (NCIS) to apply a preliminary code to open coronial cases. Since the introduction of the revisions process the number of deaths coded to suicide has been lower for preliminary data, and has increased in releases of revised and final data.
Over time, the NCIS has worked with jurisdictions to improve the timeliness and completeness of information flowing from the Coronial systems to the NCIS database. These improvements lead to changes in the information available to ABS coding staff. It is therefore important that data users are aware of any significant improvements in the management of coronial data to enable better interpretation of data within, and between reference periods.
In 2012, the implementation of JusticeLink in the NSW coronial system significantly changed how information is exchanged between the NSW coroners courts and the NCIS. This system enables nightly uploads of all new information to the NCIS, and as a result information pertaining to NSW coronial cases is available earlier in the investigation process and the information is more complete for the purposes of coding causes of death.
There is strong evidence that the system change in NSW has improved the quality of preliminary coding in relation to suicide deaths. There has been an increase in the number of preliminary NSW suicide deaths when compared to preliminary counts in 2011. There are also fewer cases of undetermined intent (Y10-Y34). However, the full impact of this change will only be quantifiable once the 2012 data has been revised and then finalised (in one and two years time respectively).
More broadly, this change in administrative systems highlights how various factors (including administrative and system changes, certification practices, classification updates or coding rule changes) can impact on the mortality dataset. Data users should note this particular change and be cautious when making comparisons between reference periods. The change does not explain away differences between years, but is a factor to consider. It should also be noted as a factor that may influence the magnitude of any increases in suicide numbers as revisions are applied across the next two years.
For further information, see Explanatory Notes
92-94. Further information on the revisions process the ABS undertakes can be found in Explanatory Notes
29-33 and Technical Notes, Causes of Death Revisions, 2006
in the Causes of Death, Australia, 2010 publication, and Causes of Death Revisions, 2010 and 2011
in this publication for further information.