Deaths by suicide over time

Numbers and rates of deaths by suicide change over time as social, economic and environmental factors influence suicide risk. The data visualisations below provide an overview of the characteristics of people who have died by suicide in Australia since 1907, looking at trends and variations by sex and age—how many there were, how old they were when they died, and the methods used over time. This analysis may provide useful information on potentially preventable factors, such as restricting access to means of suicide and reducing the risks posed by social or economic factors. Over time, the accuracy and quality of the data collected have been influenced by a number of factors including changes in legislation, technology and a reduction in social stigma.

Suicide deaths by sex, Australia, 1907 to 2018.

The line graph shows age-standardised rates of suicide for males, females and persons from 1907 to 2018. Users can also choose to view the number of deaths by suicide and male to female rate ratios from 1907 to 2018 and median age at death by sex from 1964 to 2018. The data can be viewed for any period between the years for which data are available. The visualisation includes text boxes with numbers and rates of deaths by suicide in Australia in 2018 for persons, males and females. In 2018, there were 3046 suicide deaths recorded at a rate of 12.1 per 100,000 populations; there were 2320 deaths by suicide for males, with a rate of 18.6 and 726 for females, with a rate of 5.7.

Numbers of deaths by suicide increased steadily over the first half of the 20th Century (from 461 in 1907 to 760 in 1950), with peaks and troughs in numbers of suicides corresponding with significant world events (see below). However, since the 1950s numbers of deaths by suicide increased more steeply over time—in part driven by population growth. Peaks in numbers of deaths by suicide occurred during the 1960s and late 1990s. Since the mid-2000s numbers of deaths by suicide in Australia have increased to about 3,000 Australians dying by suicide each year.

Have suicide rates changed over time?

Between 1907 to 2018, age-standardised suicide rates in Australian ranged from 8.4 deaths per 100,000 population per year (in 1943 and 1944) to 18.4 in 1963.

  • Suicide rates peaked in 1913 (18.0 deaths per 100,000 population), 1915 (18.2), 1930 (17.8), 1963 (18.4) and 1967 (17.7). These peaks tended to coincide with major social and economic events or changes, see Impact of social and economic events.
  • Suicide rates tended to increase from 1907 to 1915 (from 16.9 to 18.2 deaths per 100,000 population). Rates then fluctuated throughout the late 1910s and early 1920s (from 13.1 deaths per 100,000 population in 1918 to 16.2 in 1920, returning to 12.8 in 1922), before increasing to a peak of 17.8 in 1930.
  • Rates then declined throughout the 1930s and early 1940s, reaching a low of 8.4 deaths per 100,000 population in 1943 and 1944 (however, suicide rates for the war years may have been underestimated, see Impact of social and economic events below).
  • Rates tended to increase throughout the 1950s, peaking at 18.4 deaths per 100,000 population in 1963. Rates remained high throughout the 1960s while the 1970s and early 1980s saw a decline in rates (from 15.4 deaths per 100,000 population in 1971 to 11.6 in 1984).
  • Rates began to rise in 1985 and fluctuated from 14.3 in 1987 to 11.9 in 1993 with a recent peak of 14.8 in 1997. This was followed by sustained declines over the early 2000s, with a low of 10.2 per 100,000 population in 2006.
  • After 2006, suicide rates began to rise. In 2018, the rate was 12.1 deaths per 100,000 population—down from 12.9 in 2015.

It is important to note that deaths by suicide were underestimated in the collection of routine deaths data, particularly in the years before 2006 (AIHW: Harrison et al 2009; De Leo, 2010; AIHW: Harrison & Henley 2015). Since then, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has introduced a revisions process to improve data quality by enabling the revision of cause of death for open coroner’s cases over time. Deaths registered in 2018 and 2017 are preliminary and data for 2016 are revised and therefore, data for these years are subject to further revision by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Data from 1907 to 2015 are final (for further information see Technical notes).

What’s changed in the last decade?

Trends in suicide rates, especially recent trends—over the last 10 years, are a matter of public and policy interest. However, interpretation of trends and changes in rates is complicated by large yearly variation due to small numbers of deaths by suicide. Caution is advised when making year to year comparisons.

Impact of social and economic events

While an individual’s reasons are personal and often complex, overall peaks and troughs in rates and numbers of deaths by suicide coincide—more or less—with social and economic events.

Falls in the male suicide rate coincided with both World Wars 1 and 2. These falls are at least partly a statistical artefact due to the fact that deaths from all causes (including deaths by suicide) of Australian service personnel while overseas were not included in Australian death registration data, while population estimates were not adjusted to allow for the absence of these personnel (AIHW 2005; AIHW: Harrison & Henley 2014).

The highest annual age-standardised rate for males in the last century occurred in 1930 (29.8 deaths per 100,000 population), during the Great Depression—a period of high unemployment, particularly among males. The rise in both male and female suicide rates in the 1960s has been attributed, in part, to the unrestricted availability of barbiturate sedatives (Oliver & Hetzel 1972; Whitlock 1975). Subsequent falls in these rates in the late 1960s and early 1970s have in turn been attributed to the introduction of restrictions to the availability of these drugs in July 1967 (AIHW: Harrison & Henley 2014). High rates of suicide in the late 1980s and early 1990s coincide with a period of economic uncertainty in Australia.

Males have consistently higher rates of suicide than females

Since 1907, the male age-standardised suicide rate has been consistently higher and more variable than the female rate. Variations in the overall suicide rate in Australia have been largely driven by changes in the male suicide rate.

The peak in overall suicide rates in 1930 was driven by an increase in male suicide rates, peaking at 29.8 deaths per 100,000 in 1930—the highest rate ever recorded. Similarly, the increase in overall suicide rates in the 1990s was also mainly driven by an increase in male rates. The peak in the 1960s reflects a rise in suicide rates for both males and females.

The male suicide rate ranged from a high of 5.6 times that of females in 1930 to lows of less than twice the female rate in the 1960s and early 1970s—mainly due to the marked rise in female suicide rates at this time. Since then, the male suicide rate has fluctuated around 3–4 times that of the female rate.

Although males are more likely to die by suicide, females are hospitalised for intentional self-harm (with and without suicidal intent) almost twice as frequently as males (see Intentional self-harm hospitalisations). Furthermore, early indications from ambulance attendance data reporting on attendances for suicide attempts in 2019 suggest females are more likely to attempt suicide than males (see Ambulance attendances, self-harm behaviours and mental health).

Patterns of suicide by age have changed over time

Age-specific suicide rates for males are higher than those for females across all age groups for all years. Use the year slider to see how patterns of suicide in males and females have changed in Australia over time. Hover over the graph to display the tooltip to see the trend in deaths by suicide by sex over time for each age group.

A more detailed breakdown by 5-year age groups is provided for the most recent suicide data from 2018: see Australia’s Health Suicide and intentional self-harm snapshot. The highest proportion of deaths by suicide occur during mid-life. More than half of all deaths by suicide (55%) in 2018 occurred in people aged 30–59 (1,669 deaths) compared with 23% for those aged 15–29, and 21% for those aged 60 and over. Some of the highest suicide rates for both males and females occur in their 40s; the highest rates are for males aged 45–49 (28.1 deaths per 100,000 population) and 85 and over (32.9) and for females aged 40–44 (9.4).

Suicide deaths by age and sex, Australia, 2018.

The butterfly chart shows the age-specific rates of suicide for males and females by age groups (15–19, 20–39, 40–59 and 60 and over). Users can also choose to view numbers of deaths by suicide for males and females in these age groups.  Data can also be viewed by year from 1907. In 2018, age-specific suicide rates were much higher in males than females for all age groups, and the highest rates were in males aged 40–59, at 26.9 per 100,000 population. 

For approximately the first half of the period 1907 to 2018, age-specific suicide rates in males generally increased with age; however, by the start of the 1990s this pattern had changed substantially with suicide rates highest in younger males aged 20–39. Since 2008, the highest suicide rates have been observed in middle-aged males (aged 40–59).

Throughout 1907 to 2018, the lowest suicide rates in males were observed in those aged 15­–19.

  • From 1907 to 1970, suicide rates in males aged 15–19 were less than 10 deaths per 100,000 population. Rates then increased throughout the 1970s and 1980s peaking at 21.0 deaths per 100,000 population in 1988, while still remaining the lowest of the reported age groups.

Males aged 20–39 had the second-lowest age-specific suicide rates for most of the 20th Century; however, during the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s this age group had the highest suicide rates.

  • From 1907 to 1977, suicide rates for males 20–39 were around 20 deaths per 100,000 population) with peaks of 27.2 in 1914, 24.6 in 1930 and 26.1 in 1963 and a low of 6.0 in 1944.
  • From the early 1980s, suicide rates in this age group increased steadily to more than 30 deaths per 100,000 population, reaching a high of 39.2 deaths per 100,000 population in 1998.
  • Rates fell steadily to 19.6 deaths per 100,000 population in 2013 but since have risen above 20 deaths per 100,000 to 23.5 in 2018.

The pattern of age-specific suicide rates for middle-aged males (aged 40–59) was different to that of younger age groups, with the highest rates being observed in the first part of the 20th Century and then falling to lower levels.

  • The highest age-specific suicide rate for males aged 40–59 was 49.8 deaths per 100,000 population in 1912. Peaks of more than 47 deaths per 100,000 population were also seen in 1913 (47.0) and 1930 (48.2). Age-specific rates then fell to a low of 16.5 deaths per 100,000 population in 1944.
  • Rates tended to increase throughout the 1950s and 1960s peaking again at 36.8 deaths per 100,000 population in 1963, before falling to 21.2 in 1983.
  • Since then, rates for this age group have fluctuated from 29.6 deaths per 100,000 population in 1987 to 20.4 in 2004 then increasing to a recent high of 29.2 in 2015. Rates have since fallen to 26.9 deaths per 100,000 in 2018 for males aged 40–59.

A similar pattern was seen in males aged 60 and older.

  • The age-specific suicide rate for males aged 60 and older was about 40 deaths per 100,000 population from 1907 to 1967 (with peaks at 57.3 deaths per 100,000 population in 1915 and 56.5 in 1930 and a low of 29.8 in 1943).
  • From 1968 suicide rates have generally fallen, to an all time low of 16.8 in 2005. Since then rates have increased to 19.6 in 2018.

Age-specific suicide rates for females showed comparatively little variation over time—except for a peak in multiple age groups during the 1960s.

  • For the first half of the 20th Century, age-specific rates in females aged 40–59 fluctuated between 5 and 10 deaths per 100,000 population, with peaks of 12.4 in 1915 and 13.5 in 1957. Rates peaked at 22.1 deaths per 100,000 population in 1963 and remained above 20 until peaking a second time in 1967 at the highest rate recorded for females (22.5 deaths per 100,000 population). Rates then fell to a low of 5.5 deaths per 100,000 population in 2005. Age-specific suicide rates have since increased in this age group to 8.6 deaths per 100,000 population in 2018. 
  • Similar patterns were seen for females aged 20–39 and 60 and older, albeit with lower suicide rates.
  • A different pattern has been observed in females aged 15–19. Suicide rates fluctuated from around 2 to 6 deaths per 100,000 population from 1907 to the late 1930s. The fluctuations in rates have been mainly due to small numbers of deaths by suicide in this age group. Rates then declined to around 1 to 2 deaths per 100,000 population during the 1940 and 1950s. Rates then increased in the 1960s to the late 1990s, fluctuating between 2 and 6 deaths per 100,000 population. Since then, suicide rates have increased to between 3 and 8 deaths per 100,000 population with the highest rate recorded in this age group in 2012 (8.3 deaths per 100,000 population).

How have methods of suicide changed over time?

Understanding the methods used for suicide can play an important role in suicide prevention. These data are provided to inform discussion around restriction of access to means as a policy intervention for the prevention of suicide.

Please consider your need to read the following information. If this material raises concerns for you or if you need immediate assistance, please contact a crisis support service, available free of charge, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Please consider the Mindframe guidelines if reporting on these statistics.

The pattern of methods used for suicide has changed greatly, sometimes rapidly, over the last century as new methods have become available or as restrictions to the availability of some methods have been introduced. The methods of suicide used by males and females differed over the period 1907 to 2018; however, as males account for the majority of deaths by suicide the methods used by males have a greater influence on the overall pattern than the methods used by females.

The classification system used to code causes of deaths data, ICD-10, uses the term ‘mechanism’ to refer to the external cause of death. Throughout Suicide & self-harm monitoring ‘mechanism’ has been used in data visualisations, while the term ‘method’ has been used in the accompanying text.

Suicide deaths by sex and mechanism, Australia, 1907 to 2018.

The line graph shows age-standardised suicide rates by mechanism for poisons, gas, firearms, hanging and other mechanisms from 1907 to 2018. Users can also choose to view age-standardised rates and numbers of deaths by suicide, by sex and mechanism (including all mechanisms) from 1907 to 2018 and median age at death by sex and mechanism from 1964 to 2018. The data can be viewed for any period between the years for which data are available. The highest suicide rates by mechanism between 1907 and 2018 were for poisons in the 1960s, at around 7 to 8 deaths per 100,000 population falling steeply throughout the 1970s to below 3 from 1981. Around this time, suicide rates by hanging began to rise steeply, becoming the highest by mechanism after 1988 and more than doubling from around 3.2 deaths per 100,000 population in 1988 to 7.3 in 2018.

Hanging (ICD-10 X70) has become the most common method of suicide in Australia and use of this method increased substantially over the last 25 years. Age-standardised rates of suicide by hanging remain much higher for males than females, but have increased for both sexes.

  • Rates of suicide by hanging were relatively steady from 1907 to the late 1980s, with rates around 3 deaths per 100,000 population for males and 1 and lower for females.
  • From the late 1980s, rates of hanging increased as other methods of suicide (firearms and poisoning by gas) declined.
  • Hanging became the most common method of suicide for males in 1989 and for females in 1997. Age-standardised suicide rates by hanging in males have more than doubled since then—from 5.7 per 100,000 population in 1989 to 11.9 in 2018—and in 2018 accounted for almost two-thirds (63%) of male deaths by suicide.
  • Similarly, the rate of suicide by hanging has increased more than 1.5 times in females from 1.9 deaths per 100,000 population in 1997 to 2.9 in 2018 and caused almost half of all deaths by suicide in females in that year.

Use of firearms (ICD-10 X72–X75) was the most common method of suicide for males from 1907 to the late-1980s.

  • In males, the rate of suicide by use of firearms was more than 5 deaths per 100,000 population per year for most of 1907 to 1993 (with a peak of 10.2 deaths per 100,000 population in 1914 and a fall below 5 deaths per 100,000 population in 1941 to 1946).
  • In contrast, female rates of suicide by this method were low throughout this period (less than 0.6 deaths per 100,000 population).
  • Rates of suicide by use of firearms declined steeply for both males and females from 1987 after the introduction of gun control restrictions in some states of Australia, and fell further after additional reforms in 1996.

In the 1920s, poisoning by gas (ICD-10 X67), largely due to carbon monoxide poisoning, became a new method of suicide in Australia with the introduction of the domestic gas supply and the motor vehicle to Australia.

  • Rates of poisoning by gas peaked in 1963 in females (2.1 deaths per 100,000 population) and were also high for males (4.8). Rates then declined throughout the 1970s—this has been attributed to the replacement of toxic ‘town gas’ by less toxic gases in most of Australia at this time (AIHW: Harrison & Henley 2014).
  • Rates of poisoning by gas subsequently increased once again in the 1980s and 1990s, peaking for males (5.8 deaths per 100,000 population) and for a second time in females at a much lower level (1.2 deaths per 100,000 population) in 1997 as a result of the increasing use of motor vehicle exhaust gas (AIHW: Harrison & Henley 2014).
  • A decline in poisoning by gas after 1997 was likely due to the introduction of emission controls that greatly reduced the amount of carbon monoxide permitted in the exhaust gas of new motor vehicles (AIHW: Harrison & Henley 2014).

Exposure to poisonous substances excluding gas (ICD-10 X60–X66, X68–X69) was the most common method of suicide for females from 1907 until 1997.

  • For most of the first half of the 20th Century, rates of poisoning by substances (excluding gas) were approximately 2 deaths per 100,000 population in females; however, during the 1960s rates increased 4 times—peaking at 8.4 in 1967—before returning to previous levels in the 1980s.
  • A similar peak in suicide rates by this method was seen in males, with rates more than doubling in the 1960s to a peak of 8.2 deaths per 100,000 population in 1963 before falling again in the 1970s and 1980s. 
  • These peaks in suicide rates due to poisonous substances (excluding gas) during the 1960s have been attributed mainly to the unrestricted availability of barbiturate sedatives (AIHW: Harrison & Henley 2014). These trends were not associated with compensatory falls in the use of other methods of suicide during this time. In July 1967, in response to concerns over misuse of these drugs, the supply of barbiturates was limited and deaths by suicide from poisoning (excluding gas) in both males and females declined soon after (AIHW: Harrison & Henley 2014). 
  • In 2018, poisoning by substances (excluding gas) was the second most common means of suicide among females with a rate of 1.6 deaths per 100,000 population—accounting for almost a third of female deaths by suicide each year for the last decade.

Age-standardised rates for suicides by other methods (ICD-10 X71, X76–X84, Y87.0) are only available from 1964.

  • Rates for these methods were relatively stable over the period 1964 to 2018 for both males and females.
  • It is not possible to report on these different methods individually, as the numbers are too small to report for privacy or data reliability reasons.

References

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2005. Mortality over the twentieth century in Australia: trends and patterns in major causes of death. Mortality surveillance series no. 4. Cat. no. PHE 73. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW: Harrison JE, Pointer S and Elnour AA 2009. A review of suicide statistics in Australia. Cat. no. INJCAT 121. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW: 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: Harrison JE & Henley G 2015. Injury deaths data, Australia: technical report on issues associated with reporting for reference years 1999–2010. Injury research and statistics series no. 94. Cat. no. INJCAT 170. Canberra: AIHW.

Oliver R & Hetzel R 1973. An analysis of recent trends in suicide rates in Australia. International Journal of Epidemiology 2(1):91–101.

Whitlock F 1975. Suicide in Brisbane, 1956 to 1973: the drug-death epidemic. Medical Journal of Australia 1(24):737–43.