Media Release: Australia first research uncovers impact of suicide and action required

10 September 2016

A new national report released today, on World Suicide Prevention Day, shows just how far-reaching suicide is as a serious public health issue in this country. The project surveying more than 3000 people, is the first Australian study to explore exposure to, and impact of, suicide among a large community-residing adult population. DOWNLOAD the report.

Suicide Prevention Australia Director and research partner from the University of New England, Associate Professor Myfanwy Maple said of the results: “Australia can no longer ignore the pain that suicide brings when it touches our lives. Recent research from the United States suggests that 135 people are impacted by each suicide death. Our Australian research found that 89% of people knew someone who had attempted suicide and 85% knew someone who had died by suicide.”

The World Health Organization estimates that over 800,000 people die by suicide each year – that’s one person every 40 seconds. In Australia more than 2500 people die each year with latest figures (2014) telling us that 2,864 Australians took their own life. Research also tells us that some 65,000 people attempt suicide each year and more than 400,000 think about it. These tragic figures means that there is likely to be many, many more people who are impacted by, or exposed to, suicide.

Suicide Prevention Australia Chief Executive Sue Murray says, “In publishing this report, we acknowledge the pain expressed, and lessons learned, from personal experience of suicide. We are also inspired by the positive messages of hope shared by many of these voices. It is clear that Australia must match its prevention efforts and investment to the magnitude of the public health problem we face.”

Suicide Prevention Australia is working alongside government, the suicide prevention and mental health sector, and members of its Lived Experience Network to review and reform health and social care systems. Community driven suicide prevention must be sustainably supported by national, state and local infrastructure. As well as increasing public awareness of the impact of suicide and suicidal behaviour, we must look for opportunities to intervene and educate.

Lived Experience Network member and SPA Community Ambassador, Joe Williams says: “As emotionally tough as it is to retell and relive the pain of my suicide attempt and the loss of people close to me to suicide, I believe we must share these stories. Just as there is a negative ripple effect of suicide, there can also be a positive ripple of change and hope.”

Report recommendations

  1. Increase community awareness about suicide prevention and educate communities on suicide and the broad spectrum of suicidal behaviours to help build capacity within the community to give and get help.
  2. Recognise lived experience of suicide as a public health issue of significance in Australia.
  3. Develop and support a National Suicide Prevention Strategy, including a dedicated component addressing the long-term exposure and impact of suicide.
  4. Prioritise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention and culturally appropriate suicide prevention strategies. National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy implementation funds must be released as a matter of urgency.
  5. Ensure consistent comprehensive discharge plans are developed and implemented for all patients upon being discharged from the health system including the involvement of family, close contacts and community services.
  6. Engage the Productivity Commission to conduct a detailed independent assessment of the cost of suicidal behaviour in Australia. This assessment should include the costs associated with exposure to, and impact of, suicidal behaviour, as well as suicide deaths.

Summary of Report Findings
 
About the Respondents

  • When comparing geographic location of our survey respondents to that of the Australian population distribution (Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)), the spread of respondents is somewhat aligned.
  • In this sample we did see a higher response rate from those in rural, remote and regional areas in comparison to the ABS population, as well as 7% of the sample identifying as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, significantly above the national representation.
  • Of the 3,220 respondents, 21% identified as male, 78% as female and 1% preferred not to say or reported another option. Compared to women, men reported statistically higher levels of exposure to suicide deaths generally as well as close deaths, yet women reported statistically higher levels of impact following exposure to suicide attempt and death than men.
  • Six per cent of respondents were aged 18-24, with the highest number of respondents (26%) being in the 45-54 age group.

 Suicidal Behaviour

  • At present there is no way to measure the number of people affected by each suicide death. Similarly, there is limited understanding of how people are affected by a broader spectrum of suicidal behaviours such as attempts, plans and/or ideation.
  • Australian findings indicate that 89% of respondents knew someone who had attempted, and 85% knew someone who had died by suicide. 80% of people had been exposed to both suicide attempt and death. In this finding it is possible that the reported attempt and death occurred to the same person. 75 people (2% of the sample) reported their own suicide attempt without being prompted. This is a clear message that we need to include this lived experience of suicide in our work to prevent suicide. 

Relationships

  • When asked about the relationship with the person whose suicide death or attempt affected them most, respondents most commonly reported “friend”, followed by “brother”.
  • Results indicate that 32% of people reported a very close relationship with the deceased, and 37% expressed that the death had a significant impact that they “still feel”.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents experienced a higher number of suicide exposures, reporting, on average, seven people known to them who had died by suicide, more than twice that of non-Indigenous respondents.
  • Results showed a higher than expected exposure to non-kin suicide attempts for 18-24 year olds and 25-34 year olds. In contrast, higher exposure to kinship-related suicide attempts for older groups (45-54 year olds) and higher than expected exposure to self-suicide attempt for 35-44 year olds.
  • Findings from our research showed high levels of distress, over long periods of time ranging from one to 58 years after the reported suicide death.

 Service Implications

  • It is clear from our research that those touched by suicide are more highly distressed population when compared to representative National Health Survey results.
  • More than half of those who knew someone who had died by suicide reported that the person did not have access to some form of healthcare or they were not aware of any access.
  • The significant impact that suicide has on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is resounding, with over 25% of open text responses referring to multiple exposures to suicide deaths, and 20% discussing the devastation that this ripple effect has had on their community.
  • A number of qualitative comments highlighted the need to address a range of vulnerable populations such as Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD), rural and remote communities, people with severe and persistent mental illness, people of LGBTI experience, those experiencing or who have experienced abuse, refugees and asylum seekers, people who have experienced a bereavement intervention or a trauma during childhood, carers of people who have attempted suicide, vulnerable communities (such as construction and emergency services workers) and those suffering from severe eating disorders.

Many thanks to all who shared their very personal experiences as part of this research, we deeply value your time and contribution. The release of this research, along with this week being R U OK? Day (8 Sept) and WSPD (10 Sept), will mean we will see more talk of suicide and suicide prevention in the media. While it is so important that this issue is spoken about and the voices of lived experience are heard, it may bring up tough emotions, particularly for those of us touched by suicide, so please take care this week and talk to someone you trust about how you're feeling if you are struggling. For a comprehensive list of support services visit the Useful Contacts section on the Communities Matter website.

If you didn't get the chance to share your lived experience with us as part of this research but would like to contribute, please consider joining our Lived Experience Network. Find out more on our website. If you have any questions, send us an email.

Talking about suicide in the media: A reminder of the Mindframe Media guidelines - http://www.mindframe-media.info/ - and http://www.conversationsmatter.com.au for tips on how to talk safely and constructively about suicide. 

Crisis support information

         Lifeline 13 11 14 www.lifeline.org.au/gethelp
         Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au 
         Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 www.kidshelp.com.au
         MensLine 1300 78 99 78 www.mensline.org.au

For additional services and support visit www.suicidepreventionaust.org and click on the Get Help butto