Suicide and intentional self-harm

Suicide and intentional self-harm are complex and can have multiple contributing factors. Although suicide and intentional self-harm are complex issues, they can be prevented.

Where to find help and support

The AIHW respectfully acknowledges those who have died or have been affected by suicide or intentional self-harm. We are committed to ensuring our work continues to inform improvements in both community awareness and prevention of suicide and self-harm. This page discusses suicide and presents material that some people may find distressing. If this report raises any issues for you, support 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. Resources to support reporting and professional communication are available at: mindframe.org.au

Visit Suicide & self-harm monitoring for information on suicide and self-harm data.

What are suicide and intentional self-harm?

Suicide is an action taken to deliberately end one’s own life, while intentional self-harm is deliberately causing physical harm to oneself but not necessarily with the intention of dying.

About deaths data

The assembling and national reporting of deaths by suicide has up to an 18-month time lag.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) collects demographic and cause of death information on all registered deaths in Australia from the states and territories. These deaths 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 (ABS 2020). Visit 2020 ABS Causes of Death for more information. 

Suicide registers that exist in several jurisdictions can provide more timely data on suspected deaths by suicide. Data from these registers will not be publicly available unless the relevant jurisdiction decides to release data. Whilst they are not directly comparable with data released by the ABS, the differences are generally small (approximately 95% accurate or better). Visit Suspected deaths by suicide to learn more about suicide register data.

How common is suicide?

In 2020, there were 3,139 deaths by suicide – an average of about 9 deaths per day. The age standardised rate was 12.1 deaths per 100,000 population, which is down from 13.2 in 2017. Since 1907, the male age-standardised suicide rate has been consistently higher and more variable than the female rate (Figure 1). Variations in the overall suicide rate in Australia have been largely driven by changes in the male suicide rate.

For more information, visit Deaths by suicide in Australia

Have the rates of suicide changed during COVID-19?

While there has been a rise in the use of mental health services and an increase in psychological distress during the COVID-19 pandemic, COVID-19 has not been associated with a rise in suspected deaths by suicide in 2020 and 2021. Preliminary national mortality data published by the ABS for 2019 and 2020 show that the rate of death by suicide in Australia was lower in 2020 (12.1 per 100,000 population) than in 2019 (12.9 per 100,000 population).

Data on suspected deaths by suicide in 2020 and 2021 have been released for Victoria and New South Wales from their respective suicide registers. The Coroners Court of Victoria Monthly Suicide Data Report for April 2022 shows that the number of deaths in Victoria suspected to be from suicide in 2021 (695) was lower than in 2020 (700), 2019 (699) and 2018 (697) (Coroners Court 2022).

The New South Wales Suicide Monitoring System, established in October 2020, reported 927 suspected deaths by suicide in NSW in 2021. This is higher than the number of deaths reported for 2020 (904) but lower than for 2019 (945) (NSW Health 2022).

See The use of mental health services, psychological distress, loneliness, suicide, ambulance attendances and COVID-19 for more information.

Figure 1: Suicide deaths by sex, Australia, 1907 to 2020

Trends 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. 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.

  • Between 1907 to 2020, age-standardised suicide rates in Australia 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.
  • In 2020, the rate was 12.1 deaths per 100,000 population – down from a post-2006 high of 13.2 in 2017. It is important to note that deaths registered in 2020 and 2019 are preliminary and as such, are subject to revision. For more information, visit Deaths by suicide over time.

Sex and age differences

Figure 2 shows age-specific suicide rates for males are higher than those for females across all reported age groups for all years.

The age distribution of deaths by suicide is similar for males and females, and the highest proportion of deaths by suicide occur during mid-life. More than half of all deaths by suicide (52%) in 2020 occurred in people aged 30–59 (1,637 deaths) compared with 24% for those aged 15–29, and 23% for those aged 60 and over. Suicide was the leading cause of death among people aged 15–44 in 2017–2019 (AIHW 2021).

In 2020, the highest suicide rate for males occurred in those aged 85 and over (36.2 deaths per 100,000 population), high rates of suicide were also recorded in males aged 40–44 and 50–54 (both 27.1 per 100,000). Males aged between 40–54 accounted for over one-quarter (27%) of deaths by suicide for males. The highest suicide rate for females was in those aged 45–49 (9.6 deaths per 100,000 population) accounting for the highest proportion of deaths by suicide for females (10.9%).

For information, visit Deaths by suicide over time.

Figure 2: Suicide deaths by age and sex, Australia, 2020

Geographical variation

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

Patterns of deaths by suicide between states and territories can reveal insights that may be masked by results for the whole of Australia and may help to highlight different risk factors and assist in better targeting of suicide prevention activities.

In 2020, the age-standardised suicide rate ranged from 10.1 per 100,000 population in Victoria to 20.4 per 100,000 in the Northern Territory. The highest number of deaths by suicide was in New South Wales (876), followed by Queensland (759), Victoria (694), Western Australia (381) and South Australia (234).

For more information, visit Suicide deaths by states & territories and Suicide & self-harm by geography.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

In 2020, 197 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people died by suicide. Age-standardised rates of Indigenous deaths by suicide have increased over time, from 22.7 per 100,000 persons in 2013 to 27.9 per 100,000 persons in 2020 – more than double the rate for non-Indigenous Australians in 2020 (11.8 per 100,000 persons).

Young Indigenous Australians experience suicide more than 2 times as high as young non-Indigenous Australians. In the 5 years from 2016 to 2020, suicide rates for Indigenous Australians were highest for those aged 0–24 (16.7 per 100,000) and 25–44 (45.7 per 100,000) – compared with other age groups. These rates were 3.2 and 2.8 times as high as in non–Indigenous Australians in the respective age groups (5.3 and 16.4 per 100,000 respectively.

For more information see Indigenous health and wellbeing.

How common is hospitalisation for intentional self-harm?

In Australia, there were more than 28,000 cases of intentional self-harm hospitalisations in 2019–20.

What are the sources of data on intentional self-harm?

Understanding the scale of the problem of intentional self-harm in Australia is difficult because many cases of self-harm are unreported, unless medical treatment is required.

Only those patients admitted to hospital for intentional self-harm are currently routinely reported in national data sets. Hospital admissions data are collated as an annual release with a 12-month lag. Data are also available from ambulance attendance records and national population surveys such as the Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (Department of Health, 2015). 

Visit Intentional self-harm hospitalisation and Ambulance attendances for more information.

Sex and age differences

Rates of hospitalisations for intentional self-harm are higher for females. This is the opposite of what is seen in deaths by suicide, where rates are higher for males. This may, in part, be due to differences between methods used by males and females – with males tending to use more lethal methods than females.

In 2019–20:

  • Nearly two-thirds of people (63%) hospitalised for intentional self-harm injuries were female (over 18,000 hospitalisations).
  • The rate of intentional self-harm hospitalisations was higher for females than males (141 per 100,000 population compared with 84).

Young people have the highest rates of hospitalisation for intentional self-harm

In 2019–20 the age and sex-specific rate was highest for females aged 15–19 (552 hospitalisations per 100,000 population), followed by females aged 20–24 (340 per 100,000 population). For more information see Intentional self-harm hospitalisations by age groups.

Figure 3: Intentional self-harm hospitalisations, by age and sex, Australia, 2008–09 to 2019–20

How do intentional self-harm hospitalisations vary across states and territories?

The rate of intentional self-harm hospitalisations varied between states and territories in 2019–20, with the Northern Territory reporting the highest rate (240 hospitalisations per 100,000 population), which is more than double the national rate (113). The lowest rate was recorded in New South Wales (83 hospitalisations per 100,000 population). Reporting is based on a patient’s usual residence, not necessarily where they received treatment.

For more information visit Intentional self-harm hospitalisations by states & territories and Suicide & self-harm monitoring: Geography.

Are people in regional and remote areas at greater risk of intentional self-harm hospitalisations?

Understanding the geographical distribution of hospitalisations due to intentional self-harm based on patients’ area of usual residence can help target suicide prevention activities to areas in need.

In 2019–20:

  • Residents of Very remote areas recorded a rate of 198 hospitalisations per 100,000 population, almost double that of residents in Major cities (102) which recorded the lowest rate.
  • The majority of intentional self-harm hospitalisations were residents of Major cities (65%).
  • Young people aged 15–19 had the highest rates of intentional self-harm hospitalisations in each remoteness area except Remote where 20–24-year-olds had the highest rate.
  • The highest rate of intentional self-harm hospitalisations overall was in the 20–24 age group in Remote areas (756 hospitalisations per 100,000 population), followed by those aged 15–19 in the same area (677).

A similar pattern was seen with deaths by suicide as age-standardised suicide rates tended to increase with remoteness of place of residence. For more information visit Deaths by suicide by remoteness areas.

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on suicide and self-harm, visit Suicide & self-harm monitoring.

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

References

ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) (2020) Causes of death, Australia methodology, ABS, Australian Government, accessed 2 March 2022.

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) (2021) National Mortality Database, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 2 March 2022.

Coroners Court of Victoria (2022) Monthly suicide data report, April 2022 update, Coroners Court of Victoria, Victorian Government, accessed 6 June 2022.

Department of Health (2015) Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, Department of Health, Australian Government, accessed 28 April 2022.

NSW Health (2022) NSW suicide monitoring system, Report 19. Data to March 2022, NSW Health, NSW Government, accessed 6 June 2022.