Introduction by Croakey: Last year, 190,939 deaths were recorded in Australia – almost 20,000 more than in 2021, according to data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Wednesday.
As we’ve previously reported, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in 2022. The rate of alcohol-induced deaths increased between 2021 and 2022, as did deaths from motor vehicle accidents and assaults.
Below, Dr Sally Fitzpatrick, Acting Director of Everymind, provides an analysis of the cause of death data relating to suicide, and highlights the importance of strengthening Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s social and emotional wellbeing and cultural connections.
Suicide is a complex issue rarely preceded by a single event or condition, she notes.
Sally Fitzpatrick writes:
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has today released the latest national Causes of Death dataset, including official suicide data for Australia.
The preliminary data shows that there were 3,249 deaths by suicide in 2022 with an age-standardised rate of 12.3 per 100,000 people and an average of 8.9 deaths by suicide in Australia each day.
These numbers represent a small overall increase from 2021 in which an age-standardised rate of 12.1 per 100,000 was recorded. While the suicide rate for women decreased, the rate for men increased from 18.3 per 100,000 in 2021 to 18.8 in 2022.
Before commenting further on these new statistics, it is vital to pause and acknowledge the meaning behind these numbers. Each of the 3,249 Australians represented in these figures is a heartbreaking loss for families, friends and communities across the country.
Each death by suicide is a reminder of the work that remains to be done, and of the need to ensure we listen to the voices of lived experience and their stories of hope, recovery, support and resilience that power our collective effort to reduce suicide in Australia.
Culturally safe support important
In 2022, 239 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people died by suicide across Australia.
The age-standardised suicide rate for First Nations peoples increased by 33 percent to reach the highest rate in the last ten years. Between 2013-2022, the suicide rate for males increased from 33.3 to 46.3 per 100,000, whilst the suicide rate for females increased from 12.1 to 14.0 per 100,000 over the same time period.
Due to changes in the way Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide deaths have been identified in the most recent dataset, along with some alterations to trend and analysis methods in different jurisdictions, comparisons to data from previous years should be made with care.
A more detailed summary focused on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide data, including a comprehensive explanation of these changes, is available via Life in Mind.
Director of the Centre of Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention (CBPATSISP), Professor Pat Dudgeon, told Everymind it was “devastating that the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who died by suicide has increased once again”.
“We must address the social and emotional wellbeing needs of our people, and not just consider suicide a mental health issue. Programs that honour and restore our connection to our culture, Country and community can strengthen Indigenous people’s social and emotional wellbeing and, alongside culturally responsive clinical support, protect against suicide,” Dudgeon said.
Update on COVID
The 2022 data continues to report on suicide deaths involving risk factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Within the reported data, 84 people had the COVID-19 pandemic mentioned in either a police, pathology or coronial finding report. This represents a decrease in real numbers from the 2020 total (99) but was marginally higher than 2021 (81).
However, as in previous years, the pandemic did not appear as an isolated risk factor in any of the cases reported in the 2022 data. The fact that, on average, each person had more than six risk factors underlines the fact that suicide is a complex issue rarely preceded by a single event or condition.
Key factors relating directly to the pandemic included job loss, lack of financial security, family and relationship pressures, and not feeling comfortable accessing healthcare. More general factors included depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety and stress disorders and use of alcohol and other drugs.
Refine population-based approaches
This is the first year that data relating to the cultural and linguistic background of individuals have been included in the Causes of Death dataset.
People from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds may have unique experiences in relation to mental health and suicide, including cultural and family views and how health services are accessed.
For the five-year period from 2018 to 2022, those born in Australia recorded an age-standardised rate of 14.7 deaths per 100,000 people compared to 8.2 deaths per 100,000 people for those born overseas.
While death registrations do not include information on the cultural or linguistic aspects of communities to which individuals belonged, by examining country of birth and years of residence in Australia we are now able to provide some indication of cultural and linguistic diversity within the dataset.
With people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds identified as a priority population in various Australian government strategies, this new window into the data may help to refine population-based planning and approaches to prevention.
Other key data
Other important data from this year’s dataset includes:
- The suicide rate for males increased by 2.6 percent between 2021 and 2022.
- The suicide rate for females decreased by 2.3 percent between 2021 and 2022.
- Young and middle-aged people are more likely to die by suicide than those in older age groups, with 81.7 percent of people who died by suicide being under the age of 65 years.
- Men aged between 45-49 years had the highest age-specific suicide rate of those aged under 85 years, accounting for the largest proportion of deaths due to suicide (10.7%).
- In 2022, women aged over 85 years had the highest female age-specific suicide rate for the first time since the beginning of the ABS mortality data time series with a rate of 10.6 per 100,000.
- Using data from New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and Northern Territory, the age-standardised suicide rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was 29.9 per 100,000.
Behind the numbers
The reasons people take their own life are complex, and often there is no single reason why a person attempts or dies by suicide.
Once again, as we examine this new data and consider how we respond to the scale of this issue, we must all remain mindful that behind each number is a person, a journey and a network of other people also impacted.
By increasing our understanding of data alongside the lived experience of distress, we will increase the opportunity to save lives.
A full breakdown of data, by age, gender and state, with trends over time will be available at Life in Mind.
Visit Mindframe for guidelines and resources supporting safe reporting and communication about suicide data. A general summary of today’s data release, prepared by Mindframe is available here.
See Croakey’s archive of articles on mental health.