The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2020 Causes of Death data was released earlier today, showing that despite concerns about the impact of the pandemic, suicides decreased between 2019 and 2020 for both men and women, and across most states and territories.
The data indicates that the rate of suicide (12.1 per 100,000) is the lowest it has been since 2016. But the fact that suicide still claims over 3,000 lives per year is a reminder of the need for a renewed focus on a compassionate and comprehensive whole-of-government and whole-of-community approach.
Everymind Director, Dr Jaelea Skehan OAM, said it was important to pause and remember that behind the numbers discussed and reported today were people, and behind them, a network of other people.
“Today as we cite the number of people who died by suicide to highlight the scale and impact of the issue, it is important to be reminded that this is only part of the overall picture,” Dr Skehan said.
“While data is important in informing our local and national approach to suicide prevention, we also need to look beyond the statistics and ensure that we learn from those who have lived experience of suicide – particularly those who have experienced suicidal distress and suicidal thoughts, and from people who have lived through suicide attempts.”
Dr Skehan highlighted that the data released today was contrary to early predictions about the impact of the pandemic, but the loss felt through communities was still high.
“The reduction in suicide of 6.1% for males and 7.1% for females occurred following the devastating bushfires and the first year of the pandemic, and do not support initial fears and claims in the media that suicide rates would, and already were, increasing in 2020,” Dr Skehan said.
“This does not mean that communities have not experienced significant and ongoing distress, that should be the focus of proactive and collaborative action.”
In 2020 a total of 3,139 people died by suicide. Research shows that for every suicide death, 135 people feel the ripple effects. This means that in 2020, more than 420,000 people were impacted by suicide as a family member, friend, colleague, teammate, first responder, neighbour or treating professional.
Key points in the ABS Causes of Death data 2020
Everymind, through the Mindframe program, hosted a briefing for media and the suicide prevention sector today and has interpreted and summarised the data, with further detail available here.
Better data access to guide better decision-making
While the ABS Causes of Death data is the main source of data on deaths by suicide in Australia, those working on suicide prevention now have access to a growing number of data sources to guide their work.
The Australian government has supported a new national data project, the Suicide and Self-Harm Monitoring System, led by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), which incorporates the ABS data with other data sources to get a more complete picture of data in Australia and trends over time.
Dr Skehan says all of this information helps inform and guide efforts in suicide prevention service planning, research, policymaking, community education and advocacy.
“Access to quality data is critical to underpin the whole-of-government and whole-of-community approach to suicide prevention,” Dr Skehan says.
“A national and ‘joined up’ approach to data collection and reporting will drive us to the best outcomes in programs, research and community understanding of suicide risk and prevention.”
A reminder about reporting and communication about suicide
The release of the ABS Causes of Death Data today come off the back of regular data releases from jurisdictions and the Suicide and Self-Harm Monitoring System.
It also comes on the same day that the AIHW has released updated data on suicides among serving and ex-serving defence force members.
Media and suicide prevention organisations are reminded to ensure that communication is safe, accurate, non-stigmatising and respectful of the human and lived experience impacts. Contact the Mindframe team for further support with reporting or communicating about suicide and data.
If you need support, please reach out to a loved one, or one of these services:
Lifeline 13 11 14 www.lifeline.org.au
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au
beyondblue 1300 224 636 www.beyondblue.org.au
QLife 1800 184 527 www.qlife.org.au
Kids Helpline 1800 551 800 www.kidshelpline.com.au