There were 1,881 deaths from suicide registered in 2007. Over three-quarters (77%) of suicides were males.
Suicide as proportion of total deaths
While suicide accounts for only a relatively small proportion (1.4%) of all deaths in Australia, it does account for a much greater proportion of deaths from all causes within specific age groups (see graph below). For example, in 2007, 21% of all male deaths under 35 years were due to suicide. Similarly for females, suicide deaths comprise a much higher proportion of total deaths in younger age groups compared with older age groups.
The median age at death for suicide in 2007 was 41.7 years for males and 44.5 years for females and 42.5 years for persons. In comparison, the median age for deaths from all causes in 2007 was 77.5 years for males and 83.5 years for females.
Age-specific death rates are the number of deaths during the calendar year at a specified age per 100,000 of the estimated resident population of the same age (see Glossary for further information). The pattern of age-specific rates in 2007 for suicide in males and females is shown in the graph below.
The highest age-specific suicide death rate for males in 2007 was observed in the 85 years and over age group (23 per 100,000 ). However, this number is inflated by the small population, and the relatively high number of deaths in this age group. As a proportion of total deaths in this age group, suicide deaths were relatively low (0.2%). The age-specific death rates for the 45-54 years age group were 18.7 per 100,000 males, and 20.8 per 100,000 males in the 35-44 year age group. Suicides as a proportion of total deaths for these age groups were 6.3% and 15% respectively. The age-specific suicide rate for males was lowest in the 15-24 years age group (12.5 per 100,000), however, this cause represented 20.2% of all deaths in this age group.
For females the highest age-specific suicide death rate in 2007 was observed in the 45-54 years age group and the 55-64 years age group both with 5.7 deaths per 100,000. The lowest age-specific death rate for female deaths was in the 75-84 years age group (3.3 per 100,000).
Age standardisation is used to compare death rates over time, as it accounts for any changes in the age-structure of a population over time. The age-standardised suicide rate (for persons) in 2007 was 8.9 per 100,000 standard population. This compares with 14.3 per 100,000 standard population in 1998.
The age-standardised suicide rate in 2007 for males was 13.9 per 100,000 standard population while the corresponding rate for females was 4.0 per 100,000 standard population. Throughout the period 1998 to 2007 the male age-standardised suicide death rate was approximately four times higher than the corresponding female rate, as can be seen in the following graph.
Method of Suicide
In 2007 the most frequent method of suicide was Hanging (X70), which was used in half (54%) of all suicide deaths. Poisoning by drugs was used in 12% and poisoning by other methods (including by motor vehicle exhaust) was also used in 12% of suicide deaths. Methods using firearms accounted for 8.9% of suicide deaths. The remaining suicide deaths included deaths from drowning, jumping from a high place, and other methods.
Mechanism By Intent - Selected Causes
External causes of death are required to be examined by a Coroner, who investigates both the mechanism by which a person died, and the intention of the injury (whether accidental, intentional or assault). See Technical Note - ABS Coding of suicide deaths for information on how the ABS Codes deaths as suicide.
For deaths registered in 2007, 1,027 deaths were the subject of ongoing coronial investigations at the time ABS data was finalised, and had insufficient information recorded on NCIS in order to be able to determine any cause of death. These records will have been coded to R99 Other ill-defined and unspecified causes of mortality. Some of these deaths may be determined a suicide after further investigation.
Further, coronial processes to determine the intent of a death (whether intentional self harm, accidental, homicide, undetermined intent) are especially important for statistics on suicide deaths because information on intent is required to complete the coding under ICD-10 coding rules. Coroners' practices to determine the intent of a death may vary across the states and territories. In general, coroners may be reluctant to determine suicidal intent (particularly in children and young people). In some cases, no statement of intent will be made by a coroner. The reasons may include legislative or regulatory barriers, sympathy with the feelings of the family, or sensitivity to the cultural practices and religious beliefs of the family. For some mechanisms of death where it may be very difficult to determine suicidal intent (e.g. single vehicle accidents, drowning), the burden of proof required for the coroner to establish that the death was suicide may make a finding of suicide less likely.
The table below presents selected external causes of death by mechanism and intent. It is possible that additional suicide deaths are contained within the Intent categories of Accidental and Undetermined Intent, particularly for the mechanisms of poisoning and hanging.
1. Butterworths Concise Australian Legal Dictionary, 1997, Butterworths Sydney.