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Suicide is a major public health issue. Although death by suicide is relatively uncommon (approximately 1.6% of all deaths), the human costs are substantial and can impact broadly across communities. As such, suicide prevention is a key focus for both government agencies and non-government organisations.
Over recent years there have been two government enquiries which have made recommendations on improving suicide data. The Senate report – ‘The Hidden Toll: Suicide in Australia’, was released in June 2010. This report highlighted issues with data quality and availability, focussing especially on under-reporting of suicide deaths. The House of Representatives report – ‘Before it’s too late’ was released in July 2011. This report made specific recommendations on extending the scope of social and demographic data that is routinely collected on suicide deaths, and the availability of disaggregated data for research purposes.
The ABS has responded to challenges concerning the quality of suicide data through the implementation of new coding guidelines, and a three year revisions program for coroner certified deaths (see Chapter 2 for more information). This revisions process allows time for coroners to investigate potential suicide deaths and make a determination on whether the death was as a result of intentional self-harm.
In terms of expanding the availability of data on suicide, there were several additional data items, the importance of which were highlighted by the House of Representatives report – ‘Before it’s too late’, including ethnicity, culture, geography, educational attainment, employment status and socio-economic status. Many of these data items are not captured in current datasets, and the viability of collection in the future will need further investigation. However, additional information that can be publicly reported is available in current datasets. This information can provide further insight into the impacts of suicide across particular segments of the Australian community, and is presented in this report.
PREVIOUS ABS PUBLICATIONS
Historically the ABS has provided data about suicide in the annual Causes of Death publication. The statistics produced in this publication include counts and rates of suicide for a single year disaggregated by age, sex, method of suicide and state or territory of usual residence.
In addition, the ABS has released single-issue publications about suicide in 1994, 2000, 2006 and 2007. These publications have typically reported suicide data for the preceding decade.
The National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, 2008 (ABS cat. no. 4326.0), provided information on the prevalence of selected lifetime and 12-month mental disorders, and reported data on suicidal ideation, plans and attempts.
This publication contains summary statistics on deaths registered in Australia between 2001 and 2010 (the most recent year for which data are available), where the underlying cause of death was determined as Intentional self-harm (Suicide, International Classification of Diseases (ICD) codes X60-X84, Y87.0). Suicide can be defined as the deliberate taking of one’s life1. 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 is provided in Chapter 2.
This publication presents data on suicide deaths disaggregated by age, sex, mechanism of suicide, state or territory of usual residence, country of birth, Indigenous status, and multiple cause of death. Further information on suicides is available in the data cubes associated with this publication. All data are presented by year of registration, rather than the year in which the death occurred. Delays in the registration of some deaths would result in counts of deaths being underestimated for recent years if presented by year of occurrence.
1. Buttersworths Concise Australian Legal Dictionary, 1997, Buttersworths Sydney