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ABS releases Causes of Death data for 2017

26 September 2018

Today the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the Causes of Death data for 2017, reiterating the need to renew our collective commitment to suicide prevention in Australia – as individuals, services, communities and governments.

Following a modest decrease in 2016, the latest data shows that in 2017 3,128 people died by suicide nationally, the second time that number has surpassed 3,000 in the past three years. This equates to more than eight Australians every day.

The Everymind team, through Mindframe, has worked quickly today to interpret the data and summarise it for national stakeholders, but we understand that behind every number is a person and the family and community who are grieving their loss.

The data released today indicates that men are still more than three times more likely to die by suicide than women, with the national suicide rates highest among men in their 30s, 40s and 50s. And while suicide rates increased across many age groups, the largest rise was among men 45-55 years in 2017.

While young people under 20 years have the lowest rate overall, suicide remains a leading cause of death for young people and the suicide rate among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people remains unacceptably high at more than double the national suicide rate, based on the data available. 

Everymind’s Director Jaelea Skehan says it is critical governments, services and the broader community come together to ensure an inclusive and proactive response to suicide.

“No government, service or individual should think that the lives lost to suicide in this country are acceptable. As someone who works nationally in suicide prevention and as someone that has lost family and friends to suicide, I don’t think they’re acceptable.

“It would be easy to point a finger at one thing that needs to change or improve, but this is a big issue that requires a big response. 

“One life lost, one family impacted, one community grieving is one too many.”

Jaelea Skehan, Everymind Director

While rates are still lower than our last national peak in 1997, there has been an increase in suicide rates and the number of deaths over the past five years. In 2017 the national suicide rate was 12.7 per 100,000, compared to 11.8 per 100,000 in 2016.

Of the states and territories, QLD, the ACT and NSW recorded some of the largest increases in 2017, while the number of suicide deaths decreased in TAS, VIC and SA.

“We need to really look at addressing the social determinants that contribute to distress. We need to empower and build capacity across our community, ensure we have an accessible and responsive service system and better wrap-around supports for people who have been impacted,” Ms Skehan said.

For the first time the ABS has provided data relating to comorbidities, with 80% of suicides having comorbidities mentioned as contributing factors. Mood disorders (including depression) were reported in 43% of all suicides and drug and alcohol use disorders were mentioned in 29.5% of suicides.

“The data suggests that we need to connect our drug and alcohol strategy and service system to our national suicide prevention efforts,” Ms Skehan said.

“The Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan for Australia includes most of the recommendations from the World Health Organisation, with the exception of alcohol reduction.” 

Suicide Prevention Program Manager Marc Bryant says it’s important to remember that behind the data released today are people, families and communities who have all been impacted.

“Every life lost is a life that is valued and missed. Suicide is complex and the reasons people take their own life are complex. There is often no single reason why a person attempts or dies by suicide.”

Mr Bryant says it’s also essential we communicate about suicide safely and seek guidance when interpreting the data.

“Mindframe has been working to translate the data from the ABS quickly and accurately for several years now to provide national briefings for the mental health and suicide prevention sectors, as well as the media.

“Suicide and suicide prevention are both important issues of public concerns, but we need to make sure we talk about them in a way that is safe,” he said.

For a snapshot of the data and expert guidance on reporting on suicide please visit Mindframe.

To find out more about suicide prevention in Australia visit Life in Mind.

If you or someone you know needs support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.