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What we know about suicide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Suicide has emerged in the past half century as a major cause of premature mortality and is a contributor to the overall health and life expectancy gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples1. In 2014 it was the fifth leading cause of death among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and the age-standardised suicide rate was around twice as high as the non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons rate. On average, over 100 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons end their lives through suicide each year, accounting for 1 in 20 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths.

The gaps are considerably greater in some regions and vary markedly by age and gender.

  1. Suicide rates are typically much higher among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men than women.
  2. The peak age of suicide is 30-34 years for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men (3 times the rate of other men of this age) and 20-24 years for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women (4 times the rate of other women).
  3. The suicide gap is largest among young people. The suicide rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander 15-19 year old males (37.8 per 100,000 persons) and females (16.1) are around four times that for non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males (10.1) and females (4.0). Similarly, for 20-24 year olds, the suicide rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males (64.2 per 100,000 persons) is over three times the rate for non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males (19.3) and the rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander females (20.1) is four times that for non- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander females (5.0).
Statistic

Further suicide data can be found at the Centre of Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention, and from the ATSISPEP report.

Three main issues can be identified:

  1. There is variable quality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identification at the state and national levels, resulting in an expected under-reporting of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicides.
  2. Lack of reporting on suicide due to questions regarding intent, especially in the case of childhood suicides. Similarly, it can be demonstrated that there may be a reluctance to classify adult deaths as suicides for a variety of reasons also.
  3. Delays in reporting data, whereby incidences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide might not be known for months and often years after the fact.

Notes

1

Dudgeon P, Milroy J, Calma T, Luxford Y, Ring IT, Walker R, Cox A, Georgatos G, Holland C. Solutions that work: What the evidence and our people tell us: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Evaluation Project report. University of Western Australia; 2016.