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Data on ambulance attendances offers new insights on preventing suicidal behaviour

20 July 2021

Everymind has welcomed improvements to the National Suicide and Self-Harm Monitoring System with new data released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The National Suicide and Self-Harm Monitoring System was launched in September 2020 to provide a comprehensive and up-to-date view of suicide, suicide attempts and self-harm in Australia to inform policy, programs and interventions.

Today’s release includes information from the National Ambulance Surveillance System (NASS) on the number of ambulance attendances over time for across New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory.

Everymind Director, Dr Jaelea Skehan OAM, is a member of the Expert Advisory Group for the National Suicide and Self-Harm Monitoring System and has welcomed the significant release.

“The establishment of the National Ambulance Surveillance System and the inclusion of timely data within the broader System is globally innovative, but more importantly it helps to extend what we know about suicidal behaviour in Australia,” Dr Skehan said.

“The National ambulance data will enable us in Australia to get regular data on suicide attempts, suicidal ideation and self-harm, extending what we currently get through suicide registers and hospital presentation data.

“Having more complete data, from multiple sources, will enable us to work together to better respond to specific needs across our communities."

Everymind Director, Dr Jaelea Skehan OAM

The NASS is a partnership between Turning Point, Monash University, Eastern Health (Victoria) and jurisdictional ambulance services across Australia.

The first release of NASS data, from New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory in March, June, September, and December of 2020 reports:

  • ambulances attended a total of 22,400 incidents involving suicidal behaviours
  • ambulances attended nearly 4,400 incidents involving deliberate self-injury without suicidal intent
  • rates of ambulance attendances for suicide attempt and intentional self-injury were higher for women than men, despite the fact that the suicide rate for men remains considerably higher than the rate for women.

Also updated data released today also includes data from the suicide registers in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland. This data does not show an increase in suspected suicide deaths in 2020, or since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“Suicide is a significant issue for our communities and the way we talk about suicide and suicide data is important,” said Dr Skehan.

“In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, there were publicly released predictions of escalating suicide rates. The data in the system shows, that for now at least, these predictions have not been accurate.

“The number of suicide deaths, and suicide attempts, occurring in Australia are too high and require significant investments, collaborative action and support for people experiencing distress and those impacted.

“But our planning, our actions and our public advocacy must be based on accurate information and data, together with the lived and living experience of suicide to shape our priorities and actions.

“The work being done on the National Suicide and Self-harm Monitoring System is a step in the right direction and should be the go-to source of information for policy makers, services, and our media.”

Visit the National Suicide and Self-Harm Monitoring System here or find out more at Life in Mind. For guidance on the safe and responsible communication of statistics and data, visit Mindframe.

If you are experiencing distress and need help, please contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.