Suicide and intentional self-harm are complex and can have multiple contributing factors, yet with timely and appropriate interventions they may be preventable.

Where to find help and support

The AIHW recognises that each of the numbers reported here represents an individual. The AIHW acknowledges the devastating effects suicide and self-harm can have on people, their families, friends and communities.

This page discusses suicide and presents material that some people may find distressing. If this report raises any issues for you, these services can help:

Crisis support services can be reached 24 hours a day.

Mindframe is a national program supporting safe media coverage and communication about suicide, mental ill health, and alcohol and other drugs. Mindframe reminds media and communications professionals accessing this page to be responsible and accurate when communicating about suicide, as there is a potential risk to vulnerable audiences. Context is therefore important. Resources to support reporting and professional communication are available at: mindframe.org.au

See ‘Improving suicide and intentional self-harm monitoring in Australia’ in Australia’s health 2020: data insights for information on how suicide data can be improved.

What are suicide and intentional self-harm?

Suicide is the act of deliberately killing oneself (WHO 2014), while intentional self-harm is deliberately causing physical harm to oneself but not necessarily with the intention of dying. The latest statistics on suicide and intentional self-harm are presented, including incidence, trends over time and variations by sex, age and state/territory of usual residence. The main source of data is the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) national Causes of Death data set which presents deaths statistics based on year of registration of death. In this data set deaths are classified as suicide if the available evidence indicates the death was from intentional self-harm and are compiled based on the state or territory of usual residence of the deceased, regardless of where in Australia the death occurred and was registered (ABS 2019). See Causes of death.

About deaths data

The ABS collects demographic and cause of death information on all registered deaths in Australia from the states and territories. For reportable deaths (including deaths by suicide), causes of death are coded using information (coronial findings, autopsy, toxicology and police reports) from the National Coronial Information System (NCIS) database. As coronial processes can be lengthy and often not closed at the time ABS cause of death processing is finalised, the ABS undertakes initial processing with subsequent revisions. This enables coroner’s cases that remain open to be coded (using the World Health Organization International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, 10th revision, known as ICD-10) as intentional self-harm (X60–X84, Y87.0) if evidence available on the NCIS indicates the death was from suicide. However, if insufficient information is available, less specific ICD-10 codes are assigned. These cases are then reviewed 12 and 24 months after initial processing so that any change in information regarding the deceased’s intention to die can be updated. For the 2019 ABS Causes of Death release, 2018 and 2017 data are considered ‘preliminary’, 2016 data are ‘revised’ and 2009–2015 data are ‘final’. Although many of the statistics presented here are preliminary, the observed patterns of distribution (for example, age and sex) described in this article are consistent with those observed for finalised deaths by suicide from 2009 to 2015.

How common is suicide?

In 2018, 3,046 deaths by suicide were registered in Australia—an average of about 8 deaths per day—more than two and a half times that of the national road toll in the same year (1,135 road deaths) (BITRE 2019).

Suicide was the leading cause of death among people aged 15–44 in 2016–2018. See Causes of death. To some extent, this is due to the sound physical health of people in these age groups, with chronic diseases only beginning to feature more prominently among people aged over 45 (AIHW 2019).

Nonetheless, deaths by suicide are statistically rare events, with an age-standardised suicide rate of 12.1 deaths per 100,000 population in 2018.

Major cause of premature death

Suicide and self-inflicted injuries was the third leading cause of premature death from injury or disease in 2015 (Figure 1), accounting for an estimated 5.7% of the total fatal burden of disease in Australia. The total years of life lost (YLL) due to suicide and self-inflicted injuries was estimated to be 134,100 years, behind coronary heart disease (262,000) and lung cancer (154,400) (AIHW 2019). Males experienced almost 3 times the fatal burden from suicide and self-inflicted injuries that females did (100,300 versus 33,800 YLL) (AIHW 2019).

How fatal burden is calculated

Fatal burden is a measure of the years of life lost in the population due to dying from injury or disease. The YLL associated with each death is based on 2 factors: the age at which death occurs and the life expectancy (according to an aspirational life table) which is the number of remaining years that a person would, on average, expect to live from that age. The YLL is calculated by adding the number of deaths at each age, multiplied by the remaining life expectancy for each age of death.

Injuries or diseases that usually cause deaths at younger ages (for example, suicide and self-inflicted injuries) have a much higher average YLL per death than those that tend to cause deaths at older ages (for example, stroke and chronic kidney disease). Therefore, similar amounts of fatal burden can result from a small number of deaths occurring at young ages and a large number of deaths occurring at older ages.

The horizontal bar chart shows the years of life lost for the leading 10 causes of fatal burden in 2015. Suicide and self-inflicted injuries was the third leading cause of premature death from injury or disease in 2015. The total years of life lost (YLL) due to suicide and self-inflicted injuries was estimated to be 134,100 years, behind coronary heart disease (262,000) and lung cancer (154,400).

Trends over time

Trends may be presented by year of occurrence of death or year of registration of death. Using year of occurrence of death is common when the exact time period of the death is important; however, the latest data available may underestimate the occurrence of recent deaths, especially those in the later months of the year, due to a lag in registration. For this reason, year of registration of death is reported to allow the latest year of data to be compared with previous years.

Age-standardised death rates enable the comparison of death rates over time and take into account population increases and the different age structures of populations.

Although the number of deaths by suicide varies each year, the age-standardised suicide rate in Australia has increased from 10.7 per 100,000 population in 2009 to 12.1 deaths per 100,000 population in 2018—a 13% increase. The rate increased by 13% in males from 2009 to 2018 and 14% in females (Figure 2).
 

The line graph shows the age-standardised suicide rates for males, females and persons from 2009 to 2018. Suicide rates for males and females differ considerably, with male suicide rates consistently higher than those of females. Rates for both males and females have increased over the decade; for males the rate has increased from 16.5 per 100,000 in 2009 to 18.6 in 2018; for females the age-standardised suicide rate has increased from 5.0 per 100,000 in 2009 to 5.7 in 2018.

Over the last century in Australia, suicide rates for males have fluctuated above and below a rate of about 20 deaths per 100,000 population per year, with a peak of almost 30 deaths per 100,000 in 1930. Rates for females were about 5 deaths per 100,000 population per year throughout most of this period, with a marked rise in female suicide rates to more than 10 deaths per 100,000 for most of the 1960s (AIHW: Harrison & Henley 2014).

Sex differences

More than three-quarters of the 3,046 registered deaths by suicide in 2018 (76%) occurred in males. In all age groups, the number of deaths by suicide was markedly higher for males than females in 2018 (Figure 3). Over the decade to 2018 the age-standardised suicide rate for males has been approximately 3 times that of females (Figure 2).

In 2018, the age distribution of deaths by suicide (the proportion of suicides that occurred within each 5-year age group) was similar for males and females—despite there being considerable difference in the number of suicide deaths for each sex (Figure 3).
 

The butterfly graph shows the number of male and female deaths by suicide in 2018. In all 5-year age groups the number of deaths by suicide was markedly higher for males than females. The highest number of deaths by suicide was in males aged 45–49 and in females aged 40–44.

Age groups most at risk

Suicide affects people of all ages, except young children. The highest proportion of deaths by suicide occurs among young and middle-aged people, and the proportion decreases in progressively older age groups (Figure 3). In 2018, the median age at death for suicide was 44, which was considerably lower than the median age for all deaths (82 years).

Age-specific death rates show how suicide manifests across age groups by relating the number of deaths to the size and structure of the underlying population. Age-specific suicide rates for males are consistently higher than those for females and reflect the higher number of deaths by suicide that occur among males in each age group (Figure 3).

Middle-aged

Age-specific death rates are high between the ages of 35 and 59 for both males and females. More than half of all deaths by suicide in 2018 (55%) occurred in people aged 30–59 (1,669 deaths). Males aged 45–49 accounted for the highest proportion of male deaths by suicide (10%, or 230 of 2,320 deaths). For females the highest proportion of deaths by suicide occurred in the 40–44 age group (10%, or 75 of 726 deaths).

Children and adolescents

Deaths of children by suicide is a sensitive issue. The number of deaths of children attributed to suicide may be influenced by coronial processes and considerations as to whether the deceased had the developmental maturity to understand the consequences of their actions or to form an intent to die (AIHW: Harrison & Henley 2014). Deaths by suicide are reported only for 5–17 year olds; there have not been any deaths by suicide recorded in children aged under 5.

In 2018, suicide was the leading cause of death among Australian children and adolescents aged 5–17. This is in part explained by low rates of other causes of death, reflecting Australia’s high standard of living and high life expectancy. Deaths by suicide among children and adolescents (aged 5–17) are rare (100 deaths in 2018) with the majority occurring in those aged 15–17 (78% in 2018).

See Health of children and Health of young people.

Older Australians

While males aged 85 and over accounted for 2.7% of male deaths by suicide, they had the highest age-specific rate of suicide (32.9 per 100,000 population). The age-specific rate for females aged 80–84 was 9.0 per 100,000 population—the second highest age-specific suicide rate behind those aged 40⁠–⁠44 and equal with females aged 50⁠–⁠54. This indicates that deaths by suicide have a significant impact on these older age groups.

See Health of older people.

Regional variation

The number and rate of deaths by suicide differs between states and territories and across different regions of Australia.

State and territory

In 2018, the age-standardised suicide rate ranged from 9.1 per 100,000 population in Victoria to 19.5 per 100,000 in the Northern Territory (Figure 4). In all states and territories where male and female age-standardised suicide rates were reported, male rates were higher than female rates. New South Wales and Queensland recorded the most deaths by suicide (899 and 786, respectively) while the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory had the lowest number of deaths by suicide (47 each).
 

This column graph shows the age-standardised suicide rates for males, females and persons by state and territory of usual residence. In 2018, the highest suicide rate for males was 31.3 per 100,000 population in the Northern Territory; the next highest rates were in Queensland and Tasmania (25.3 and 23.2 per 100,000 population). For females the highest age-standardised suicide rates occurred in Western Australia (7.6 per 100,000 population) and Queensland (6.6 per 100,000 population).

Region

The ABS Causes of Death data set releases data based on Greater Capital City Statistical Areas. These include the population within the urban area of the city, as well as those who regularly socialise, shop or work within the city but live in small towns and rural areas surrounding the city. Within each state and territory (except the Australian Capital Territory) the area not defined as being part of the Greater Capital City is represented by a Rest of State/Territory region.

In 2018, the age-standardised suicide rate was higher in all Rest of State/Territory areas than in the corresponding Greater Capital City. The Rest of Northern Territory area recorded the highest age-standardised rate at 27.1 per 100,000 population. This was followed by Rest of State areas in Western Australia (20.1), Queensland (17.6) and Tasmania (16.4). The highest rate for Greater Capital Cities was 14.2 per 100,000 population in Greater Darwin, followed by Greater Brisbane (13.8).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

In 2018, 169 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people died by suicide. Age-standardised rates of Indigenous deaths by suicide have increased over time, from 20.2 per 100,000 persons in 2009⁠–⁠2013 to 23.7 per 100,000 persons in 2014⁠–⁠2018—almost double the rate for non-Indigenous Australians in 2014⁠–⁠18 (12.3 per 100,000 persons). Suicide is also a pronounced issue for Indigenous youth—in the 5 years from 2014 to 2018, suicide rates were highest for those aged 25–34 (47.1 per 100,000) and 15–24 (40.5 per 100,000).

Suicide method

Restricting access to methods of suicide is a key element of suicide prevention; therefore, a detailed understanding of the methods of suicide used in the community is required (WHO 2014). The information presented here is intended to provide an understanding of the methods of suicide used by males and females in Australia. This information may be distressing for some people.

In 2018, both males and females were most likely to die of suicide by hanging, strangulation or suffocation (63% of male and 49% of female suicide deaths). Poisoning by drugs was more common among females than males, accounting for almost a third (29%) of female deaths by suicide and 8.2% of male suicide deaths.

Hospitalisations for intentional self-harm

There were an estimated 33,100 cases of hospitalised injury due to intentional self-harm in 2016–17, making up 7% of all hospitalised injury cases (AIHW: Pointer 2019). See Injury and Hospital care.

About hospital data

Hospital data on admitted patients can provide limited information on suicide attempts and intentional self-harm (where people have intentionally hurt themselves but not necessarily with the intention of dying). Currently, admitted patient care data does not effectively distinguish between acts of self-harm with no intention of suicide (for example, self-mutilation) and acts of self-harm with suicidal intent (AIHW: Pointer 2019).

Sex and age differences

While males are more likely than females to die by suicide, females are more likely to be hospitalised for intentional self-harm (1.75 times); in 2016–17 females made up almost two-thirds (64%) of intentional self-harm hospitalisation cases (AIHW: Pointer 2019).

In 2016–17, the age-specific rates of hospitalised injury cases for intentional self-harm peaked among females aged 15–19 at 686 cases per 100,000—nearly 4 times the rate for males in the same age group (180 per 100,000). The age-specific rates for females aged 0–14 and 15–24 rose markedly between 2007–08 and 2016–17, from 19 and 317 cases per 100,000 respectively in 2007–08 to 49 and 512 cases per 100,000 in 2016–17 (Figure 5).
 

This butterfly graph shows the age-specific rates of hospitalised injury cases for intentional self-harm for males and females in 5-year age groups in 2016–17. Up to the 80–84 age group, rates were higher for females than for males. In 2016–17, the greatest difference between male and female rates was at ages 15–19 where the rate for females (686 cases per 100,000 population) was nearly 4 times that of males (180 cases per 100,000).

Type of injury

The information presented here is intended to provide an understanding of the methods of intentional self-harm used by males and females in Australia. This information may be distressing for some people.

In 2016–17, Intentional self-poisoning was the most common cause of intentional self-harm requiring hospitalisation, accounting for 86% of female cases and 77% of male cases (AIHW: Pointer 2019). Intentional self-harm by sharp object was the second most common cause of intentional self-harm injury resulting in hospitalisation, for both males (13%) and females (10%) (AIHW: Pointer 2019).

Suicidal ideation, plans and attempts

The National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (2007) estimated that, at some point in their lives, 1 in 8 (13%) Australians aged 16–85 had had serious thoughts about taking their own life; 1 in 25 (4.0%) made a suicide plan, and 1 in 33 (3.3%) had attempted suicide. This is equivalent to more than 2.1 million Australians having thought about taking their own life, more than 600,000 making a suicide plan and more than 500,000 making a suicide attempt during their lifetime (Slade et al. 2009).

The second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, conducted between 2013 and 2014, captured information about self-harming activity from young people aged 12–17 (Lawrence et al. 2015). Around 1 in 10 young people aged 12–17 reported having ever self-harmed (10.9%, equivalent to 186,000 young people) and about three-quarters (73.5%) of these had harmed themselves in the previous 12 months. Around 1 in 13 young people aged 12–17 had seriously considered attempting suicide in the previous 12 months (7.5%, equivalent to 128,000 young people).

Both of these national surveys relied on self-reported responses, and therefore should be interpreted with caution as respondents may not feel comfortable commenting on suicidal behaviours.

It is important to remember that although suicidal thoughts are relatively common, the majority of people who experience suicidal ideation do not go on to take their lives.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with thoughts of suicide or suicide-related behaviour, help is available.

Where do I go for more information?

If this report has raised any issues for you, these services can help:

Crisis support services can be reached 24 hours a day.

For more statistical information on suicide and intentional self-harm, see:

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2019. Causes of death, Australia, 2018. ABS cat. no. 3303.0. Canberra: ABS.

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare): Harrison JE & Henley G 2014. Suicide and hospitalised self-harm in Australia: trends and analysis. Injury research and statistics series no. 93. Cat. no. INJCAT 169. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2019. Australian Burden of Disease Study: impact and causes of illness and death in Australia 2015. Australian Burden of Disease Study series no. 19. Cat. no. BOD 22. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW: Pointer SC 2019. Trends in hospitalised injury, Australia 2007–08 to 2016–17. Injury research and statistics series no. 124. Cat. no. INJCAT 204. Canberra: AIHW.

BITRE (Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics) 2019. Australian Road Deaths database. Canberra: Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development.

Lawrence D, Johnson S, Hafekost J, Boterhoven de Haan K, Sawyer M, Ainley J et al. 2015. The mental health of children and adolescents: report on the second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Canberra: Department of Health.

Slade T, Johnston A, Teesson M, Whiteford H, Burgess P, Pirkis J et al. 2009. The mental health of Australians 2: report on the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Canberra: Department of Health and Ageing.

WHO (World Health Organization) 2014. Preventing suicide: a global imperative. Geneva, Switzerland.