Today, two key data sets that shine a light on suicide in Australia will be released. The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) 2020 Causes of Death data and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) ‘Serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members who have served since 1985: suicide monitoring 2001 to 2019’. Both data sets create important opportunities to look into the past to inform government and community decisions towards a future with zero suicide.
This morning, the ABS have released the Causes of Death Data for 2020, where 3,139 deaths were recorded as lives lost to suicide, National Mental Health Commission Chair, Mrs Lucy Brogden AM said.
“This is the lowest rate recorded since 2016, but it still equates to almost nine (8.6) lives lost every day. These numbers are more than statistics they represent lives lost and family and friends devastated. We all have a role to play in preventing suicide in our communities. A collective effort and response to the priorities and actions laid out in the National Suicide Prevention Final Advice is required. All jurisdictions of government and all settings including workplaces need to play their part in the ongoing collective commitment to reduce suicide in Australia.” “For many families and loved ones this week will be tough, and we need to keep them at the forefront of our minds as we respectfully discuss and understand these data releases,” Mrs Lucy Brogden continued.
“Sadly, 99 Australians have died by suicide with factors attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is understood to have been different for each person, ranging from general anxiety about the pandemic to direct impacts, such as job loss or family and relationship pressures. A high number of those who died by suicide with COVID-19 noted as a risk factor (60%) also experienced mood disorders and over half experienced issues related to employment and unemployment,” said Mrs Brogden AM.
The National Suicide Prevention Final Advice acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People’s as one of eight high-risk groups who have increased risk factors for suicide that directly and indirectly impact their lives. The Commission anticipates that the National Suicide Prevention Strategy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, being led by Gayaa Dhuwi, will guide a focussed national response to the unacceptable levels of suicide experienced by First Nations peoples.
“It is clear that targeted interventions for priority populations such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities must be prioritised. Over the last 10 years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People’s lives lost to suicide have continued to increase. There were 223 lives lost to suicide in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in 2020, up from 215 recorded in 2019,” Mrs Lucy Brogden continued.
The Australian Government has a significant and ongoing commitment to the national data project led by the AIHW with the National Mental Health Commission and Department of Health. The Suicide and Self-Harm Monitoring System now incorporates the ABS data with other data sources to get a more complete picture of data in Australia and trends over time and improve the timeliness of data reporting and analysis nationally.
Today’s release from the AIHW is the fourth annual data release from a specialised project analyses data for serving and ex-serving Australian Defence Force members who have served since 1985 and who have lost their lives to suicide between 2001 - 2019.
According to National Suicide Prevention Adviser and Commission CEO, Christine Morgan, this data expands on the work that has been undertaken over the last 4 years in partnership between AIHW, Defence and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“Today’s data helps us understand who we have lost to suicide from our Veteran family – each person is valued, remembered and, above all, deeply respected by us. It helps to clarify trends in the experiences of our Veterans which increases our ability to shine a light on where to focus our attention, support and services, and to increase opportunities for intervention before our service personnel reach the point of suicidal crisis,” said Ms Morgan.
This year, the data set on serving and ex-serving personnel we have lost to suicide since 2001 is expanded in two ways. It is updated to include those who lost their life to suicide in 2019. Most significantly, for the first time, AIHW has been able to work with Defence and DVA to expand the personnel included from those who served from 2001 in previous studies, to those who served from 1985 - 15 years earlier than has been available for past datasets.
“The number of Veterans we have lost since 2001 who served from 1985 onwards is 1,273. That is far too many of our loved Australians,” Ms Morgan said.
“But what we can see in the expanded data is there has been no change in the trend lines with that larger cohort of serving and ex-serving personnel. We continue to see that while serving our defence personnel have overall protective factors against suicide but the significantly increased risk is upon discharge – particularly if they have had less than 10 years of service, have not deployed, and are discharged on medical grounds.”
“The inclusion of the increased cohort provides a more accurate picture, it emphasises the urgency of the need to improve our services and support, but this data also reassures us that the points of vulnerability we have identified to date – and to which Defence and DVA are responding – are the right ones.
It’s clear that the work being done to support veterans and families as they transition, to provide peer support to help remove barriers to access to service and to continue to ensure families are empowered and supported in caring for their loved ones, is work that must continue and be expanded upon.” Ms Morgan concluded.