New data shows the suicide rate in Australia might be stabilising after rising quickly in the previous ten years.
More than 3,000 people die by suicide in Australia each year and males are three times more likely to die this way, than females.
The highest suicide rates are in middle-aged males (aged 40–49) and older males aged 85 and over.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare latest data on suicide and self harm to 2022, shows the rate was 12.3 deaths per 100,000 population – down from a post-2006 high of 13.2 in 2017 and 2019.
The annual detailed report begins with this advice: “If at any point you feel worried about harming yourself while viewing this information—or if you think someone else may be in danger—please stop reading and seek help or call Lifeline on 13 11 14. You can access LGBTIQ+ resources online, and Qlife (trained LGBTIQ+ peer support): Telephone 1800 184 527 (3:00pm – midnight everyday 7 days a week) or by webchat.”
The data shows that between 1907 and 2022, age-standardised suicide rates in Australia ranged from 8.4 deaths per 100,000 population per year (in 1943 and 1944) to 18.4 in 1963.
The AIHW says suicide rates peaked in 1913 (18.0 deaths per 100,000 population), 1915 (18.2), 1930 (17.8), 1963 (18.4) and 1967 (17.7).
“These peaks tended to coincide with major social and economic events or changes,” its report says.
“Falls in the male suicide rate coincided with both World Wars 1 and 2.
“The highest annual age-standardised rate for males in the last century occurred in 1930 during the Great Depression – a period of high unemployment, particularly among males.
“The rise in both male and female suicide rates in the 1960s has been attributed, in part, to the unrestricted availability of barbiturate sedatives.
“Subsequent falls in these rates in the late 1960s and early 1970s have in turn been attributed to the introduction of restrictions to the availability of these drugs in July 1967.
“While high rates of suicide in the late 1980s and early 1990s also coincided with a period of economic uncertainty in Australia, the social and economic disruption related to the COVID-19 pandemic has not seen an increase in the number of suspected deaths by suicide referred to coroners courts.”
The report carries a data caveat: “It is important to note that deaths by suicide were underestimated in the collection of routine deaths data, particularly in the years before 2006. Since then, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has introduced a revisions process to improve data quality by enabling the revision of cause of death for open coroner’s cases over time.”
“For approximately the first half of the period 1907 to 2022, age-specific suicide rates in males generally increased with age; however, by the start of the 1990s this pattern had changed substantially with suicide rates highest in younger males aged 20–39 and males aged 80 and over.
“Since 2008, the highest suicide rates have been observed in middle-aged males (aged 40–49) and older males aged 85 and over; however, it should be noted that rates of death by suicide in males aged 85 and over have historically been based on relatively small numbers compared to other age groups and as such, the rates can be quite volatile over time and should be interpreted with caution.