Data released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has revealed a decrease in suicide rates for 2020.
Sadly in 2020 3,139 people died by suicide, with an age-standardised death rate of 12.1 deaths per 100,000 people, the lowest rate since 2016. This compares to a rate of 12.9 in 2019. There were 2,384 male suicides (18.6 deaths per 100,000) and 755 female suicide deaths (5.8 per 100,000). Suicide was the 15th ranked cause of death in 2020.
Suicide Prevention Australia CEO, Nieves Murray said, “The decline in suicide rates in 2020 is welcome news. Any reduction in deaths by suicide is a positive sign yet these rates remain too high, and we need to continue our focus on turning the trend towards zero suicides.
“While this data includes the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to note suicide is complex, multi-factorial human behaviour with many associated risk factors.
“It’s also important to note that each number presented in this data represents a life lost which was valued and will be missed.”
“During a very challenging 2020, additional investments in suicide prevention services and major protective supports such as JobKeeper and JobSeeker have helped those who have needed it most.
“Our sector has worked harder than ever before during this pandemic. According to the 2021 State of the Nation in Suicide Prevention, 84% of providers reported an increase in demand over the past 12 months. Declines in suicide rates are a credit to their tireless efforts.
“We know these challenging times continue in our community. Crisis calls are at record highs and distress continues across the community,” said Ms Murray.
“The good news is people are seeking help and it’s important this continues in the months and years ahead to prevent any future increases. We’re seeing what can be achieved with additional investment and with whole-of-government approaches, and we need to continue it.
Key Data Callouts
In 2020, three quarters of people who died by suicide were male (2,384) making it the 10th leading cause of death.
Men’s Health Forum CEO, Glen Poole said “Preventing male suicide is a national priority. Men account for three in four suicides in Australia and yet our research consistently finds that up to four in five clients of Government-funded suicide prevention services are women. We want to see significant funding allocated to suicide prevention programs and services that are specifically targeted at men. Our research shows the vast majority of Australians would back such a move.”
In 2020 there were 223 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who died by suicide. The median age of death by suicide of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples was 31.3 years, more than a decade younger than the median age of death by suicide for the general population of 43.5 years. Those living in WA had the highest age-standardised suicide rate. The age-standardised suicide rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was 27.9 deaths per 100,000, compared to 27.2 in 2019.
Centre of Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention (CBPATSISP) Director Professor Pat Dudgeon said, “It is devastating that the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who died by suicide has increased again in 2020. The unacceptable rate of suicide in our communities is a consequence of colonisation, intergenerational trauma, continuing social disadvantage and systemic racism, and we know that effective responses must be based on Indigenous leadership and empowerment.”
In 2020, 454 young people aged 15-24 died by suicide, representing 21.2 deaths per 100,000 people. Over one-third of deaths in 15–24-year-olds are due to suicide.
ReachOut CEO, Ashely de Silva said, “Although ReachOut welcomes the significant investments being made across the country in suicide prevention, the numbers are an important reminder of what’s at stake. It is clear that we still need to do more to reduce suicide and ensure people can easily access the support and services they need. Sadly, suicide continues to be the leading cause of death for 15-44 year olds. ReachOut works to support young people and their parents when it comes to mental health and suicide prevention via strategies such as early intervention and prevention, peer support and pathways to care”.
Rural suicide rates have reduced from 17.5 to 15.7 per 100,000, representing 104 fewer deaths in rural and remote communities. This does however remain more than 50% higher compared to capital cities at 10.3 per 100,000.
Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health Director, David Perkins said, “The rates of suicide for our capital cities have been broadly consistent over the last decade at around 10 deaths per 100,000 (age-standardised death rate). The figures for the rest of states (i.e. rural and regional) are consistently higher over the last 10 years at about 15 deaths per 100,000 (age-standardised death rate). We still have a lot of work to do to change these figures which are pretty stable given the increased expenditure on various suicide prevention programs. The dividends of these efforts may yet to be realised or represent an insufficient dose as yet”.
A Time to Act
“It couldn’t be a more important time to redouble our efforts on suicide prevention right across the community,” said Ms Murray.
“A Suicide Prevention Act should be legislated to focus all Government agencies on how their policies and programs can support suicide prevention efforts as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Ms Murray also noted the new National Agreement on mental health and suicide prevention due in November is critical to ensuring major, structural and lasting reform across the nation.
“Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy and every statistic represents a cascade of grief among families, friends, colleagues and communities. The upcoming Agreement is a major opportunity to put in place the foundations needed to prevent suicide across Australia. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver on national, structural and much-needed reform at a time our community needs it most,” said Ms Murray.
Lastly, Australia needs population-level data and accurate recording of deaths by suicide for priority populations such as LGBTIQA+ and culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.
“This data is not only important to show how suicide is affecting different communities, it is vital to ensure the coordination of community specific prevention and postvention,” said Ms Murray.
To get help 24/7, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467. If you or someone you know are in immediate danger, phone 000 for emergency services.
Amelia Banks 0410 591 134
Help to report about suicide safely is available online: Go to https://mindframe.org.au/industry-hubs/for-media
About Suicide Prevention Australia
Suicide Prevention Australia is the national peak body and we’ve been providing support for Australia’s suicide prevention sector for more than 25 years. We support and advocate for our members to drive continual improvement in suicide prevention policy, programs and services. Our reach is broad, including member organisations, governments, businesses, researchers, practitioners and those with lived experience. We are focused on an integrated approach to suicide prevention encompassing mental health, social, economic and community factors. We believe that through collaborative effort and shared purpose, we can achieve our vision of a world without suicide.