Insights into self-harm and suicide in Australia

This article contains information some readers may find distressing as it refers to data about suicide and self-harm, child abuse and neglect, and family and domestic violence. If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 and Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.

Australians collectively lost over 145,000 years of healthy life in 2019 due to suicide and self-harm, half of which was associated with child abuse and neglect, alcohol use, illicit drug use or intimate partner violence, a new report estimates.

The report, released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), found that suicide and self-harm represented approximately 3% of the total burden of disease and injury in Australia. This is measured using Disability-adjusted Life Years (DALY), which estimates the impact of premature death or illness.

“Behind the numbers presented in this report are people who have died due to suicide or experienced self-harm,” said AIHW spokesperson Richard Juckes.

“This report has been funded through the National Suicide and Self-harm Monitoring System and is part of the AIHW’s ongoing contribution to the national effort to prevent suicide and self-harm in Australia. It’s important we build our understanding of suicide and self-harm to inform policy development that will save lives.”

Suicide and self-harm statistics in Australia during 2019-20

According to the report, there were 3318 deaths from suicide in Australia during 2019, and 3139 in 2020. There were also more than 28,600 hospital admissions due to intentional self-harm in 2019–20.

Around 10% of the total burden of disease and injury was among people aged 15 to 24 and nearly all of the burden of suicide and self-harm was due to premature death, called a fatal burden.

Because of the skew towards young people, individuals lost on average 42 years of life due to suicide in 2019. This was higher than death from other leading diseases, such as coronary heart disease (12 years), dementia (seven) and lung cancer (17), and similar to road injuries (43 years) and drug-use disorders (41).

Around 75% of the total burden of suicide and self-harm in 2019 occurred in males aged between 25 and 35.

“The highest rates of burden (DALY) from suicide and self-harm were among people living in remote and very remote areas, being 2.3 times higher than in major cities,” says Juckes. “In addition, burden (DALY) rates among people living in the most disadvantaged socioeconomic areas was twice as high as those in the least disadvantaged socioeconomic areas.”

Risk factors of suicide and self-harm

The report identified four potentially modifiable risk factors that had sufficient literature to establish a causal link: child abuse and neglect of children aged five years and over; alcohol use among people aged 15 years and over; illicit drug use among people aged 15 years and over; and intimate partner violence against females aged 15 years and over. According to the report, 48% of the burden of suicide and self-inflicted injuries was caused by one of these factors.

“Child abuse and neglect during childhood was consistently the leading behavioural risk factor contributing to the burden of suicide and self-inflicted injuries in both males and females aged five years and over between 2003 and 2019,” says Juckes. “In 2019, it contributed one-third (12,031 DALY) of the total burden in females, and 24% in males (25,690 DALY).

“The burden of disease research released today complements data in other reports by combining fatal and non-fatal outcomes into a summary measure which estimates the overall impact of suicide and self-harm on the health of Australians.”

National Crisis Services:
Lifeline – 13 11 14 
Blue Knot Helpline and Redress Support Service (Support for adult survivors of childhood trauma and abuse) – 1300 657 380 
1800RESPECT (support for people impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse) – 1800 737 732 
National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline – 1800 250 015
Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636.

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