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3309.0.55.001 - Suicides: Recent Trends, Australia, 1992 to 2002  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 02/12/2003   
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INTRODUCTION

Suicide continues to be a major public health issue. Although death by suicide is a relatively uncommon event (in 2002, 1.7% of all deaths registered were attributed to suicide), the human and economic costs are significant. In addition to the loss of life, the circumstances surrounding the death can be particularly difficult for family and friends. There are also health care costs associated with attempted suicide.

Suicide can be defined as the deliberate taking of one's life. To be classified as a suicide a death must be recognised as due to other than natural causes. It must also be established by coronial enquiry that the death resulted from a deliberate act of the deceased with the intention of ending his or her own life.

This publication contains summary statistics on deaths registered in Australia between 1992 and 2002 where the underlying cause of death was determined as suicide. Suicides data are presented disaggregated by sex, age, method of suicide and State or Territory of usual residence.

Other ABS publications or articles that contain information on suicides are as follows:

Publications:
Suicides 1921-1998 (ABS Cat. No. 3309.0)
Causes of Death, Australia (ABS Cat. No. 3303.0)- annual
Deaths, Australia 3302.0 (ABS Cat. No. 3302.0) - annual
A Mortality Atlas of Australia (ABS Cat. No. 3318.0)
Trends in Mortality by Causes of Death in Australia, the States and Territories During 1971-92, and in Statistical Divisions and Sub-divisions During 1991-92 (ABS Cat. No. 3313.0)

Articles:
Suicide (Australian Social Trends 2000, ABS Cat. No. 4102.0)
Youth suicide (Australian Social Trends 1994, ABS Cat. No. 4102.0)


OVERALL TRENDS

There were 2320 suicides (equivalent to a crude rate of 11.8 per 100,000 population) registered in 2002, the latest year for which data are available. This was a decrease on the 2454 suicides registered in 2001. The age-standardised rate for suicides in 2002 was 7% lower than the rate for the previous year, and 20% lower than the peak rate for the period 1992-2002 which was recorded in 1997. (see Tables 1 and 2)


Graph - Age-standardised death rates for suicide


SEX AND AGE

In 2002 there were 1817 male and 503 female suicide deaths. Throughout the period 1992 to 2002 the male standardised suicide death rate was higher than the female rate by a ratio of approximately four to one. More than half (56%) of all suicide deaths in 2002 occurred in age groups between 25 and 49 years. (see Table 1)

The highest age-specific suicide death rate for males in 2002 was observed in the 25-29 years age group (31.1 per 100,000). For females the highest rate occurred in the 40-44 years age group (9.7 per 100,000). (see Table 2)

The lowest age-specific suicide death rate for both males and females in 2002 was observed in the 15-19 years age group (13.9 per 100,000 for males and 4.1 per 100,000 for females).

Small numbers of suicide deaths in specific age and sex groups contribute to fluctuations in age-specific suicide death rates from year to year.

For males, age-specific suicide death rates fluctuated over the period 1992-2002, ranging from the lowest for the period of 13.1 per 100,000 (recorded in the 15-19 years age group in 2000) to the highest of 42.9 per 100,000 (recorded in the 25-29 years age group in 1998). In the first six years, 1992-1997, the highest rate was observed in the 20-24 years age group. The highest rate occurred in the 25 to 29 years age group in the following two years, 1998 and 1999, and in the 30-34 years age group in the subsequent two years, 2000 and 2001. In 2002, the highest rate occurred again in the 25-29 years age group.

For males, the lowest age-specific suicide death rate was observed in the 15-19 years age group for ten of the eleven years in the period 1992-2002. There was also a decline in the age-specific suicide death rate in the 15-19 years age group over the period from 18.4 per 100,000 in 1992 to 13.9 per 100,000 in 2002.

For females, where the numbers of suicide deaths were lower than for males, there was a greater fluctuation in age-specific suicide death rates over the period and no pattern was discernible. Age-specific suicide death rates for females ranged from the lowest for the period of 2.7 per 100,000 (recorded in the 15-19 years age group in 1994) to the highest of 10.2 per 100,000 (recorded in the 35-39 years age group in 1998).

For females, the lowest age-specific suicide death rate was observed in the 15-19 years age group for six of the eleven years in the period 1992-2002.


METHOD OF SUICIDE

The majority of suicide deaths (approximately 85%) reported in the period 1992-2002 involved four methods: hanging, strangulation and suffocation; poisoning by solids, liquids and gases; poisoning by drugs; and firearms and explosives. (see Table 3)

The most common suicide method in 2002 was hanging, strangulation and suffocation. This method accounted for 47% of male suicides, 40% of female suicides and 45% of suicides overall. It was the leading method for both males and females. (see Table 4)

Over the period 1992-2002 there was a decrease in the use of firearms and explosives as a method, particularly for males; and there was a decrease in poisoning by drugs for females. Conversely, there was an increase in hanging, strangulation and suffocation, with a particularly marked increase for males between 1997 (38% of male suicides) and 1998 (48% of male suicides). Over the period 1992-2002, hanging, strangulation and suffocation was consistently the most frequently reported method for males. This method became the most frequently reported method of female suicide in 1997, and remained the most common method for the remainder of the period, replacing poisoning by drugs which was the most frequently reported method in female suicides from 1992 to 1996. (see Table 4)


Graph - Suicide by method, 1992 and 2002




STATE AND TERRITORY

Age-standardised suicide rates disaggregated by States and Territories tend to fluctuate over time because of the small numbers of suicides registered in each of the jurisdictions. Therefore caution should be exercised when comparing annual State and Territory suicide data. Other factors such as the ratio of urban to rural areas may also explain some of the differences between States and Territories given the high rates of suicide in rural areas.

The highest age-standardised suicide death rate in 2002 was recorded for the Northern Territory (more than twice the national rate), followed by Tasmania (29% above the national rate) and Queensland (24% above the national rate). (see Table 6)

Over the period 1992-2002 the age-standardised suicide death rate for the Northern Territory and for Queensland was above the national rate for each of the eleven years. In contrast, the age-standardised suicide death rate for Victoria was below the national average for each of the eleven years; and for the Australian Capital Territory the rate was below the national rate for nine of the eleven years. For New South Wales the age-standardised suicide death rate was below the national rate for seven of these years and above the national rate for the remaining four years.

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