For the fourth quarter in a row, ‘cost-of-living and personal debt’ has ranked as the leading cause of elevated distress and suicide risk amongst Australian adults (18+) ahead of another crucial interest rate decision today, the latest Suicide Prevention Australia Community Tracker reveals.
The June 2023 quarter survey – taken in the week after the May Federal Budget – shows the level of Australians experiencing elevated distress beyond normal levels due to ‘cost-of-living and personal debt’ also continues to remain stubbornly high at 40% or more, four quarters running.
Those who reported cost-of-living as the cause for their elevated distress were also more likely to report suicidal thoughts (19%) than others in the survey (15%).
Suicide Prevention Australia CEO, Nieves Murray said it raised questions about whether the Budget’s promised cost-of-living relief measures would help those who had already reached crisis point.
Particularly if interest rates and inflation continued to also remain high as well, said Ms Murray, who recently met Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Phillip Lowe (May) and Treasurer Jim Chalmers (April).
“We’re seeing suicide rates increase alongside inflation and interest rates,” said Ms Murray.
“While suicide is complex behaviour, often with no single cause, we do know that the financial distress arising from these economic conditions can potentially increase the risk of suicide.
“Australians continue to tell us they are struggling at unacceptable levels, particularly with the pressure of cost-of-living and personal debt.
“Unfortunately, the Federal Budget again overlooked people in crisis across the nation by not investing adequately in frontline suicide prevention services at a time when people are increasingly using them.
“State suicide registers reveal suicide rates rose about 7% in 2022 across the nation’s two largest states, Victoria (9%) and New South Wales (5%),” said Nieves Murray, CEO Suicide Prevention Australia.
The Community Tracker revealed three in four (75%) Australians say they have experienced elevated distress beyond normal levels due to social and economic circumstances compared to this time last year.
Around 40% of Australians say they know someone in their personal life or networks, who has died by or attempted suicide in the last 12 months. This is a concerning increase of 8% from the March 2023 quarter and 13% increase from 2021.
One in five Australians report having experienced suicidal behaviour in the last 12 months, which has been consistent across the last four quarters.
Murray said rising rates of suicidal behaviour aligns with research on natural disasters and other crises that show suicide rates can peak two to three years after an event.
“We’re still feeling the effects of the pandemic, and now we’re in a cost-of-living crisis,” said Ms Murray.
The Community Tracker revealed a quarter of Australians (25% – up 5% from March 2023 quarter) say they have visited, sought help, or searched for a suicide prevention service in the past 12 months.
“It’s positive people are reaching out for help, but it’s also putting increased pressure on already stretched suicide prevention services.
“We urgently need investment in suicide prevention-specific services to support those who are already at crisis point, particularly at a time where there is a shortage of psychologists.
“The horse has bolted, and the government needs to catch up.
“We also need to implement legislative measures to drive down suicide over the longer term. Australia must therefore prioritise a whole-of-government approach in the form of a National Suicide Prevention Act.
“This will ensure all government decisions consider their impact on suicide risks – and plan adequately for it.
“A National Suicide Prevention Act is a cost-effective measure that can begin to be implemented now and should be explored as part of the upcoming National Suicide Prevention Strategy later in the year.
“The Royal Commission into Robodebt has revealed the worst-case scenario when government fails to consider the human impact of policy decisions. We need clear accountability and action through a Suicide Prevention Act to prevent such tragedies ever happening again.
“We can never underestimate the impact that every life lost to suicide has on family, friends, workplaces and the broader community.
“If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out for help,” said Ms Murray.
- Three in four (75%) Australians say they have experienced elevated distress (beyond normal levels) due to social and economic circumstances, which remains consistent from February 2023 (74%)
- The top three circumstances that are causing elevated distress include cost of living and personal debt (40%, however this is down 6% from February 2023), family and relationship breakdowns (23%, down 1% from February 2023) and social isolation and loneliness (20%, also down 6% from February 2023.
- Two in five Australians (38%) – up 8% from February 2023 and up 13% from 2021 – say they know someone in their personal life or networks, who has died by or attempted suicide in the last 12 months.
- One in five Australians report having experienced suicidal behaviour in the last 12 months.
- Distress is highest amongst “middle wage” Australians with more than three in ten (29%) of those living in households earning $100K-$149K per year, report having experienced suicidal behaviour in the past 12 months, which is more likely than those living in households earning less than $50K per year (19%).
- Younger Australians (18 to 34 years) are more likely than their older counterparts (50 years +) to say they have experienced elevated distress (beyond normal levels) due to various circumstances, compared with this time last year (80% compared to 68%).
- A quarter (25% – up 5% from February 2023) Australians say they have visited, sought help or searched for advice from a suicide prevention service in the past 12 months.
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.
The Suicide Prevention Australia Community Tracker is undertaken in partnership with YouGov Australia. Total sample size was 1038 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 14th – 17th May 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Australian adults (aged 18+).
Help to report about suicide safely is available online: Go to https://mindframe.org.au/
Clare Kinsella 0427 689 689 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Amelia Hew 0410 591 134 or email@example.com
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 30 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.