Deaths by suicide amongst Indigenous Australians

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For further information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' wellbeing, mental health and suicide prevention, see the Indigenous Mental Health & Suicide Prevention Clearinghouse managed by the AIHW. This website was developed in consultation with experts in Indigenous mental health and suicide prevention, practitioners and policy makers. It brings together key research to improve the evidence base on Indigenous mental health and suicide prevention.

Age-standardised suicide rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are substantially higher than those in non-Indigenous Australians. Reducing deaths by suicide and suicidal behaviour among Indigenous Australians is an issue of major concern for many Indigenous communities and a public health priority for all Australian governments.

Numbers of deaths by suicide and age-standardised rates are reported for New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory only (see Technical notes for further information).

The line graph shows the age-standardised rates of suicide for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people from 2001 to 2021. Users can also choose to view age-standardised rates, numbers of deaths by suicide and deaths by suicide as a proportion of all causes of death for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people by sex.

How do suicide rates differ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians?

From 2001 to 2021, age-standardised rates:

  • fluctuated in Indigenous males from a low of 25.1 deaths per 100,000 population (75 deaths) in 2008 to 38.6 (134 deaths) in 2021
  • could not be reported for some years for Indigenous females due to small numbers of deaths by suicide; however, for those years that can be reported, rates fluctuated from 7.2 deaths per 100,000 population (22 deaths) in 2006 to 16.1 (62 deaths) in 2021
  • for Indigenous Australians, ranged from 1.4 to 2.4 times that of non-Indigenous Australians.

In 2021:

  • suicide accounted for 5.3% of all deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people while the comparable proportion for non-Indigenous Australians was 1.8%
  • almost one third (32%) of all deaths by suicide in Indigenous people were female, this was greater than that seen in the non-Indigenous population (25% females).
 

Kreisfeld and Harrison (2020) found that over the period 2001–02 to 2015–16, there was an annual average rise of 0.4% in suicide rates for Indigenous males, while over the most recent 5-year period (2011–12 to 2015–16) the annual rate for Indigenous males increased by an average of 6.6%; however, these changes in rates were not statistically significant (see Glossary). For Indigenous females, over the period 2001–02 to 2015–16, modelling showed a statistically significant annual average rise in suicide rates of 5.8%; however, over the most recent 5-year period 2011–12 to 2015–16, rates fell by 2.5% per year, although this finding was not statistically significant (AIHW: Kreisfeld & Harrison 2020).

Caution should be exercised when analysing trends in deaths by suicide for Indigenous Australians due to data quality issues, including the under-identification of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in deaths data and the uncertainties in estimating and projecting the size and structure of the Indigenous population over time. Numbers of deaths by suicide and age-standardised rates are reported for New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory only. Data for Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory have been excluded (see Technical notes for further information). It is also important to remember that age-standardised rates based on only a small number of deaths by suicide will exhibit a large amount of variation and that increases in numbers of deaths by suicide and rates should be treated with caution as improvements in identifying Indigenous status among deaths data may (at least in part) account for the rise in case numbers and rates.

Suicide rates are more than twice as high in young Indigenous Australians compared to non-Indigenous Australians

Suicide contributes to premature mortality in Indigenous Australians, especially in the younger age groups. Data from the National Mortality Database and the Australian Bureau of Statistics Causes of Death from 2017 to 2021 showed the rates of suicide deaths per 100,000 people among Indigenous Australians were 16.6 and 47.6 in those aged 0–24 and 25–44 years respectively. These rates were 3.1 and 2.9 times as high as in non–Indigenous Australians in the respective age groups (5.3 and 16.2 per 100,000 respectively). This difference was less pronounced in the 45–64 age group, with a suicide rate of 21.1 among Indigenous Australians compared to 17.4 in non-Indigenous Australians. However, non-Indigenous Australians had a higher suicide rate in the 65 and over age group than Indigenous Australians (13.3 compared to 8.9 per 100,000).

Suicide deaths also represent a higher proportion of deaths in young Indigenous Australians compared to non-Indigenous Australians. From 2017 to 2021, almost a quarter (24%) of deaths in Indigenous Australians aged 0–24 were due to suicide, compared to 17% in non-Indigenous Australians in this age group. However, in older age groups, non-Indigenous Australians had a higher proportion of death by suicide than Indigenous Australians. For instance, about 5% of all deaths were attributed to suicide in non-Indigenous Australians aged 45–64 years, compared to 2% in Indigenous Australians aged 45–64.

Suicide deaths by Indigenous status and age groups, selected states and territories, 2017-2021.

This bar chart shows the death by suicide crude rates (per 100,000), number and per cent of all cause of deaths for Indigenous and non-Indigenous, by age group, from 2016–2021. Users can also choose to view by 5-year aggregates from  2001–2005 to 2017–2021. 

In 2017 to 2021, the highest Indigenous suicide rates were in those aged 25–34 in Western Australia and the Northern Territory (83.4 and 51.9 deaths per 100,000 people) and in those aged 35–44 in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland (62.8, 57.7 and 54.6 deaths per 100,000 people, respectively). In Queensland, Indigenous suicide rates in the 25–34 age group were also high compared to other age groups (47.1 per 100,000), only slightly lower than the 35–44 age group (51.6 per 100,000). In contrast, those aged 45 years and over had the lowest Indigenous suicide rates, except in Western Australia and New South Wales where those aged 0–24 had the lowest suicide rates. 

Deaths from suicide, by Indigenous status and age, selected states and territories, 2017–2021.

This bar chart shows the age-specific rates (per 100,000) for deaths from suicide, for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people by age group, from 2017–2021.  Users can choose to view by 5-year aggregates from 2001–2005 to 2017–2021. Users can also choose to view by New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Northern Territory and the total of these states and territories. 

According to the ABS Causes of Deaths data, the aged-standardised suicide rate was higher among both male and female Indigenous Australians compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts, across all states and territories in 2017 to 2021, except in South Australia where the suicide rate for Indigenous females could not be reported. Nationally, suicide rates in Indigenous males and females were around double that of non-Indigenous males and females, respectively. In Western Australia, suicide rates in Indigenous males (48.6 deaths per 100,000 population) were about twice that in non-Indigenous males (20.2) but, in Indigenous females (21.0), were 3 times that in non-Indigenous females (6.7). Indigenous suicide rates in Western Australia vary between different regions. To guide government, non-government organisations and communities in preventing suicide in Western Australia, the Western Australia Mental Health Commission developed the Western Australian Suicide Prevention Framework 2021–2025, (Government of Western Australia Mental Health Commission 2020).

Deaths from suicide, by Indigenous status, sex and selected states and territories, 2017-2021.

This bar chart shows the age-specific rates (per 100,000) for death by suicide among Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, by selected states and territories, from 2016–2020. Users can choose to view by 5-year  aggregates from 2001–2005 to 2016–2020. Users can also choose to view by NSW, Qld, WA, SA, NT and the total of these selected states and territories.

References

AIHW: Kreisfeld R & Harrison JE 2020. Indigenous injury deaths: 2011–12 to 2015–16. Injury research and statistics series no. 130. Cat. no. INJCAT 210. Canberra: AIHW.

Government of Western Australia Mental Health Commission 2020. Western Australian Suicide Prevention Framework 2021–2025. Perth: Mental Health Commission