Despite ongoing work to improve suicide prevention efforts in Australia, there has been no significant reduction in the suicide rate over the last decade. In 2015, there were 3027 deaths by suicide, or an average of eight deaths by suicide each day.
Approximately 75% of people who die by suicide are male. Suicide is the leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 44 years and the third leading cause of death for people aged 45 to 55 years. It accounts for one in three deaths among people aged 15 to 24 years and over one in four deaths among people aged 25 to 34 years.
The number of people who are hospitalised due to self-harm is more than twenty times the number who lose their life to suicide, with females much more likely than males to plan or attempt suicide. A previous suicide attempt is the most reliable predictor of a subsequent death by suicide. In addition, people who have attempted suicide and those who are experiencing mental illness are at a higher risk of suicide immediately following discharge from mental health care or emergency departments. This is of particular concern when treatment involves involuntary admission.
The personal impact of suicide is profound. It has a significant impact on families, communities and society. There is a clear need to reduce the number of people who die by suicide or attempt suicide each year and to reduce the human suffering associated with these actions. It has been estimated that the total economic cost of deaths by suicide in 2012 was $1.7 billion, noting that this amount excludes costs associated with attempted suicide.
The causes of suicide and suicide attempts can be complex and multifaceted. While some mental illnesses can be linked to an increased risk of suicide, not everyone who dies by suicide will have a mental illness. Suicide attempts are often linked to feelings of helplessness or being overwhelmed by a situation. These stressful life events can include relationship difficulties, social isolation, loss of a job or income and financial or housing stress.
Some population groups have consistently higher rates of suicide attempts or deaths due to suicide. These groups may experience a combination of risk factors that make them particularly vulnerable, and consideration should be given to how they can be provided with extra support. This includes suicide among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Among this population, suicide was almost unheard of prior to the 1960s, yet in 2014 it was the fifth leading cause of death among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and the age-standardised completed suicide rate was around twice as high as the non-Indigenous rate.
Suicide prevention efforts need to consider how services respond to people who have attempted suicide or are at risk of suicide. By providing intensive follow-up care during the days and weeks after a suicide attempt, or following discharge from inpatient psychiatric care, it is possible to reduce the risk of future suicide attempts.