National suicide monitoring website provides ‘seismic shift’ in tackling tragedies

Home / National suicide monitoring website provides ‘seismic shift’ in tackling tragedies

Commission chief executive Christine Morgan said it was impossible to predict who would die by suicide and that suicide data was inherently imperfect. But the project was a “seismic shift” towards mobilising prevention strategies based on increasingly timely information without the usual two-year lag in data reliant on state coroners, Ms Morgan said.

“Every life lost to suicide is one too many. We can all take action to prevent suicide with some understanding of who is at risk,” she said.

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The latest national suicide data is from 2018, which shows suicide was the leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 44 years old. Males were three to four times more likely to take their own lives than females, with 2320 men and 726 women dying of suicide that year (18.6 per 100,000 and 5.7 per 100,000 people respectively).

But the website includes preliminary 2019 data on suicide attempts, ideation and self-harm from the new National Ambulance Surveillance System, which shows paramedics attended 8100 self-harm and mental health incidents in NSW in June, September and December. Those one-month snapshots confirmed females were more likely to attempt suicide than males (34.46 per 100,000 people compared to 24.28 per 100,000).

The website also aims to break the stigma of suicide for families and loved ones of people who have taken their own lives.

Nerida Volker’s husband, Pete, died by suicide in 2008 when the couple’s daughters, Sienna and Lucia, were eight and four years old.

“To lose your dad when you’re young is devastating,” Dr Volker said, “but to lose a parent through suicide, there was confusion, blame, guilt, isolation and shame [borne of] stigma.

“If Pete had access to more effective services when he tried to take his life the first time and even way back when he was a kid, maybe his trajectory may have been very different,” she said.

Dr Volker is on the mental health commission’s expert advisory group, which helped ensure the website was respectful, safe and easy to navigate.

“We’re a high-risk group as a family of someone who has died by suicide … we have skin in the game so it’s important for us to make sure we get this right,” she said. “For the first time we have a national system that is really accessible and understandable [for the general public] so that we can identify the gaps in our data and areas where we need to do better.

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“Every data-point is a person, but it’s also a family and a community who have been deeply affected by suicide.”

The national monitoring system was a key recommendation from the National Suicide Prevention Summit in December 2018 to help guide prevention strategies towards the national goal of zero suicides.

NSW is expected to launch a statewide suicide register in October.

Recent data from the Victorian and Queensland suicide registers and published on the new website shows no evidence that COVID-19 has been associated with a rise in the rate of suspected deaths by suicide. But there has been a significant rise in the use of mental health services and an increase in psychological distress reported, particularly among young people.

Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia also have suicide registers. The aim is for every state and territory to have its own register that feeds into the national monitoring system.

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