Annual ABS data reinforces risks factors in suicide and the need for comprehensive action

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the 2021 Causes of Death data earlier today which has found that Australia lost 3,144 people to suicide in 2021.

Date published:

National Mental Health Commission CEO, Christine Morgan said:

“Despite the many challenges Australians have experienced over the last few years, we are not seeing a significant increase in lives lost to suicide. We are grateful to the mental health and suicide prevention workforce who have provided additional support through peak periods, and we also acknowledge those in the community who took extra special care to connect with those around them. It is however still deeply concerning that despite the increase in service access and the increase in community awareness, that we continue to lose 9 lives to suicide each and every day.”

“Every life lost is significant and the loss is felt deeply by family, friends, cares, first responders and communities.  Research suggests that almost 40 percent of Australians aged 16-85 years have been close to someone who had taken or attempted to take their own life.  Our thoughts are with all whose lives are impacted by suicide today.”

A key point in today’s data is that among people who died by suicide, on average 3 to 4 risk factors were identified.

“The presence of risk factors provides a glimpse into the mix of circumstances and environments that each person experienced before their tragic death.   These impacts may be mental health related, but in many cases they are not.  Impacts can include interactions with others, relationships, experience of trauma, financial stressors and other social forces that bring a person to the moment of crisis. This is the reality of suicide.

There is no single factor or reason why people may end their own life.  We must look for opportunities to ensure our approach is oriented towards people who are in distress and the factors in their environment that may bring them there.” Ms Morgan continued.

In April this year, the National Suicide Prevention Office was established to work across governments, portfolios, sectors and communities to drive the development of a nationally consistent and integrated approach to suicide prevention that will create an Australia where no person feels driven to take their own life. 

Dr Michael Gardner, Head of the National Suicide Prevention Office (NSPO) said an immediate priority is the development of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy which will guide coordinated action across all governments, portfolios, and communities. 

“Today’s data highlight that, while we have not seen an increase in suicides, more work is required to significantly reduce the number of lives lost each year. Building on the recommendations of the Suicide Prevention Adviser’s Final Advice, the NSPO will be identifying further priority actions that governments can take to deliver a more comprehensive and consistent national approach to suicide prevention.  

In particular, the NSPO will  encourage governments to broaden suicide prevention efforts beyond the health portfolio to address upstream psychosocial risk factors and potential stressors that are associated with suicide.  To reduce suicide, we must reduce the impacts of adverse life circumstances - financial stress, relationship breakdown, childhood adversity, social isolation and disconnection, alcohol and drug issues, and domestic and family violence, among many others.

However, the provision of timely and effective health responses is also critical. While it has been extremely encouraging to see greater investment in aftercare and postvention services nationally, the NSPO is looking to identify additional opportunities to improve national systems to save more lives. These may include expanding aftercare to include ambulance presentations and provide support to families of those who have self-harmed or attempted suicide. Greater investment in safe havens and alternatives to emergency departments may also facilitate the provision of more compassionate and appropriate care.

The NSPO will also continue to encourage enhancement of data collection and analysis at all levels of government and continued strengthening of the  National Suicide and Self Harm Monitoring System. Today’s data highlights that some populations, including men and Indigenous Australians, are disproportionately impacted by suicide. Robust data collection and translation will enable early identification of communities in need of additional support and will assist us in determining what types of supports are most needed and most effective.

The work of the NSPO is guided and informed by partnerships with people with lived experience of suicidality and suicide and draws on the combined knowledge and expertise of individuals, communities, service providers, advocates, researchers, and government agencies.

It is critical that we to work together in designing effective and appropriate approaches. The opportunity to significantly reduce the number of lives lost to suicide in Australia will require sustained collective national effort.”

National FREE 24/7 Crisis Services:  • Lifeline 13 11 14 www.lifeline.org.au • Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au • Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 www.kidshelp.com.au • MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78 www.mensline.org.au • Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service 1800 512 348

National Mental Health Commission media contact

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  • Suicide prevention

Acknowledgement of Country

The Commission acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands throughout Australia.
We pay our respects to their clans, and to the elders, past and present, and acknowledge their continuing connection to land, sea and community.

Diversity

The Commission is committed to embracing diversity and eliminating all forms of discrimination in the provision of health services. The Commission welcomes all people irrespective of ethnicity, lifestyle choice, faith, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Lived Experience

We acknowledge the individual and collective contributions of those with a lived and living experience of mental ill-health and suicide, and those who love, have loved and care for them. Each person’s journey is unique and a valued contribution to Australia’s commitment to mental health suicide prevention systems reform.