The Main Causes of Suicide in Australia


Suicide refers to the act of intentionally killing oneself. It is very challenging to deal with the subject of suicide owing to the nature of its complexity. There are a myriad of factors which surround the concept of suicide and which in most cases are not quite easy to deal with. The psychological stress which victims undergo before finally opting to commit to suicide are often overwhelming to the affected persons and for this reason, it is not possible to point out one single cause of suicide. One disturbing element about survivors of suicidal acts is that they are often left with several questions unanswered. For instance, they really wonder why they had opted to commit the life ending act or better still if there would have been other alternatives to prevent such an incident.

This report attempts to highlight statistics on deaths caused by suicide in Australia, the main causes of suicide, the steps being taken by the government to alleviate the problem as well as recommendations on how suicide menace can be prevented if not eliminated completely.

Statistics on deaths caused by suicide

In 1998 alone, a total of 2,683 suicides were recorded in Australia which represented a mean of 7 suicides on each single day during that year (Harrison & Steenkamp, 2000). Further statistics indicate that there are usually more than 30 trials before a victim can successfully commit suicide. This translates to daily suicide attempts of 210 people. If these figures are anything to go by, then it implies that the rate of suicide in Australia is very high and should be one of the leading causes of death to the human population. Indeed, deaths which are as a result of suicide attempts are almost 9 times more than those related to homicide (Harrison & Steenkamp,2000). Specifically, the number of suicides was 2,683 against just 307 deaths perpetrated by the second party (homicides). Furthermore, suicide still leads in death rates compared to road accidents. In 2008, there were 1,713 deaths caused by accidents on the road while suicide related deaths were 2,683.

In relation to gender, more males than females commit suicide. Dring the same period, out of the 2,683 suicides, males accounted for 2,150. This is a surging ratio of 4:1 when male and female deaths are compared respectively (Hassan &Tan, 1989). Moreover, 1997 and 1998 recorded the highest suicide rates among the male gender since the early 60s. This also confirms the fact that the main cause of death in males as a result of external factor is suicide. Those males who are at the prime age of 25-44 are worst affected by suicide cases; this being one of the main causes of death within this age group. The rate of suicide among males has also been on the increase. For instance, the rate of suicide among males in 1998 was about 23% compared to 1979 when the rate stood at about 16%. On the other hand, the rate of suicide among female victims decreased to 5.7% from 6.5% over the same period of time. Additionally, there are about five attempts for every successful male suicide compared to 35 similar attempts among the female victims.

Among the youth between the age of 15-24, suicide accounts for the second most notable cause of mortality. In 1998 alone, the suicide committed by youth amounted to 16 % of the entire suicide cases. Besides, those youth within the age group of 14-24 experienced the highest death rate as a result of suicide attempts.

Males within the middle age group of 25-44 accounted for about two-fifths of the suicides committed in 1998. This age group also has a higher prevalence rate of committing suicide (80%) than their counterpart females. Since 1979, men committing suicide within the middle age group of 25-44 have increased by 44 %.

The suicide rate among the elderly people was about 20 % in 1998. However, the year 1997 witnessed 600 people over the age of 55 committing suicide in Australia.

Reasons behind the high rates of suicide in Australia

There are several theories which have been put forward to explain the general causes of suicide. Nevertheless, these theories still need to be explained further and put into the right perspective in order to assist in elaborating the specifically high rate of suicide in the Australian society. For instance, mental illness is one of the key factors which are often associated with suicidal acts and this has been developed from the theory of psychiatry. In regard to personality, temperament or emotions, psychologists have emphasised these elements as some of the main causes of suicide in the world today (Goldney & Burvil, 1980). Finally, the sociological theories also attempt to draw the relationship between cultural and social values and how the two factors can lead to suicide.

The high rate of suicide in Australia can be explained from diverse point of view based on the aforementioned theories behind suicide. To begin with, this seemingly high rate implies that quite a sizeable number of the population is not a happy lot. There are three main theories which can assist in explaining this phenomenon. First of all, the psychiatric influences tops the list. Under this category, it is highly likely the Australian society is composed of a significant number of people who are under depression. One of the notable causes of depression is family history (Goldney & Burvil, 1980). It is however important to note that depression has no one single known cause but is usually a myriad of factors put together each playing a different role. In regard to family history, members of a particular family tree may experience episodes of depression during their lifetime which is passed on from one generation to another through genes. Additionally, the other common factor which would contribute to depression is stress and trauma arising from such concerns like financial difficulties, broken marriages or relationships as well as the death of a close relative or friend. It is evident that depression is taking toll on the Australian society and is one of the key factors which have led into the high rate of suicide.

Still under the psychiatric influences is the substance and drug abuse. The younger population is introduced into substance and drug abuse at a very tender age and as a result, they develop addiction soon than later. The use of hard drugs such as cocaine and marijuana as well as alcoholism is known to influence an individual to act out of sense and this is a potential ingredient when it comes to committing suicide.

Personality disorders whereby some people become less social and decide to live an isolated life. Psychological influences include such factors such as family background, the ability to cope with challenges, self-esteem, and the nature of the family background as well as the manner in which relationships are handled. The socio-cultural influence theory also offers another explanation as to why people would generally commit suicide. Under this theory, sexual orientation of an individual paramount and plays a key role. Additionally, the high level of unemployment can also lead to people losing hope and coupled with other factors, they decide to commit suicide. Furthermore under this theory, the marital status has been found to be a socio-cultural influence towards committing suicide.

In spite of the above general factors which drive people to commit suicide, there is need to give a critical look at some of the specific impetus to suicide in Australia. These are discussed in detail in the remaining part of literature including some of the recommendations which can be adopted to reverse the trend.

There are some specific age groups which have experienced an upward trend in suicide attempts in Australia since 1920. The worst affected age group is that ranging 15-24. Much of the research work which has been carried out elsewhere in United States and Canada reveals that sexual orientation is a major determining factor on matters of suicide. Indeed, the whole issue about suicide has been perceived to originate from the gay and lesbian community. Further indicators reveal that homosexuals have a higher prevalence rate of committing suicide than heterosexuals. This is equally one of the contributing factors towards the rising trend of teenage suicide in Australia since 1920s. This group of people have a higher suicidal thinking that the rest of the population.

The communities living in rural and remote areas of Australia have also been found to be at a higher risk of committing suicide than their counterparts in urban and suburb areas.

The rural areas have suffered a lot especially in the last three decades due to unfavourable socio-economic factors. As a result, farming activities which is the main source of livelihood has been negatively impacted leading to extreme struggle of the rural population to make ends meet. The worst affected are the peasant farmers who cannot afford the skyrocketing cost of farming. Consequently, much of the rural and remote population decided to relocate to well established centres of commerce. This has led to a state of hopelessness and dejection thereby creating a potential ground for suicidal thoughts (Hassan, 1995a).

Moreover, guns are not so much restricted in rural areas compared to the urban set-ups. Hence the availability of this tool has made it quite easier for victims of suicidal thoughts to commit the act swiftly (Alvarez, 1974).

Programs the Government currently has in place

The attempt to commit suicide and the actual act of successful suicide cannot be handled in isolation at all because from the research records, it is evident that it is usually a series of suicide attempts that a victim eventually succumbs to the last attempt. It is against this backdrop that the Victorian government has launched an initiative to deal with cases of victims of who are already contemplating committing suicide through telephone counselling (Kosky & Goldney, 1994).

The helpline for potential individuals who are up to committing suicide is meant for people whose suicidal thoughts are high. There are also those people who may be interested in the risk of suicide on other people and willing to offer help. Additionally, there are those who may have been negatively affected by other people who have c omitted suicide. All these groups can receive telephone counselling help through the Victorian Government Health Information and Counselling Centre (Nicholas & Howard, 1999). Trained professionals who are both paid and some acting on volunteering capacity have been deployed at this centre on a 24 hour basis to offer the much needed help. Victims can also be referred to more specialised centres should be need to especially in complicated cases.

The Australian government has identified some agencies which have been performing various roles in relation to suicide identification, prevention and care of victims. For instance, the healthcare professionals who are entitled with primary care have been noted down as potential players in the identification and supporting of people contemplating to commit suicide.

Further, the Australian Medical Association has also been on the forefront in the alleviation of suicide related cases (Hill, 1995). Public awareness campaigns have been initiated to some significant level in order to educate and counsel the masses on the issues surrounding suicide. Public discussion forms have been carried out to freely discuss the intrigues of suicide like stigma and so on.

In spite of theses attempts by the government to address suicide in totality, there is much which still needs to be done bearing in mind that suicide figures is still on the upward trend. For this reason, the recommendations noted below can be used as guidelines in alleviating the rising incidents of suicide in Australia.

Recommendations on how to best tackle the problem

Cases of suicide in Australia are no longer within the confines of the youth because all the segment of the population is equally affected. Consequently, there is need to address the menace more decisively and firmly. In this view, the following recommendations are deemed fit if they can be adopted and implemented in the spirit of preventing further cases of suicide:

  • The remote and rural areas in Australia should be given more emphasis in the process of initiating programs that will prevent suicide attempts. People in these regions feel more alienated, forgotten and hopeless than those living in commercial centres.
  • Healthcare centres should be equipped with well trained professional to handle incidents of suicide well in advance before the actual happening.
  • The male gender should be targeted right from their tender ages when when they are still school age so that proper attitude and perception can be instilled in them at the right time. They should be made to be interested in their own mental and physical health in addition to boosting self-esteem.
  • The education system should incorporate life skill lessons in the curriculum so that young minds are moulded into responsible and highly esteemed individuals who can face and resolve issues as they encounter them in life instead of opting for suicide.
  • In order to reach and cover some of the remote areas which have been ignored for long, the government should recruit, train and equip professionals in both education and health sector alongside offering them incentives so that they can deliver the much needed services in the rural and remote setting.
  • Adequate funding is needed for the indigenous population so that tailor made programs which fit their requirements are put in place. this funding can be extended to facilitate research work in regions which are considered suicide hot spots and best ways to manage the same developed (Lester,1997).


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Goldney, R.D. and Burvil, P. W. (1980). Trends in suicidal behaviour and its management in Australian New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 14, 1-15.

Harrison, J. E. and Steenkamp, M. (2000). Suicide in Australia: Trends and data for 1998 in Australian Injury Prevention Bulletin, 23.

Hassan, R and Tan, G. (1989). Suicide Trends in Australia, 1901-1998: An Analysis of Sex Differentials, Suicide and Life-threatening Behaviour, 19, 364-367.

Hassan, R. (1995a). Suicide Explained: The Australian Experience. Melbourne: University Press.

Hill, K. (1995). The Long Sleep: Young People and Suicide. London: Virgo Press Limited.

Kosky, R.J. and Goldney, R.D. (1994). Youth Suicide: a public health problem? Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 28: 186-187. Lester, D. (1997). Making Sense of Suicide. Philadelphia: The Charles Press Publishers.

Nicholas, J., Howard, J. (1999). Better Dead Than Gay, Youth Studies Australia,17(4): 28-33.

Shneidman, E. (1993). Suicide as Psychache A Clinical Approach to Self Destructive Behaviour. London: Jason Aronson Inc. Shneidman, E. (1996). The Suicidal Mind. New York: Oxford University Press.