Victoria has recorded its highest number of annual suicides since the coroner’s court started collecting suicide data in 2000, with mental health workers saying the trend is occurring nationally.
In 2022 there were 756 suicides in Victoria, a 9% increase compared with 2021, according to data published by the coroner’s court on Monday which reveals much of the increase occurred in the latter part of the year.
From January to July the monthly number of suicides in Victoria was consistent with previous years, at approximately 58 suicides a month. From August to December, the monthly number of suicides increased to an average of 65 a month.
In a statement, the court said it “considers that the higher numbers during August to December 2022 might signal an emerging trend”.
The most substantial increase in suicides was seen in the 65 years and older cohort, with a 32% rise from 2021 to 2022. There was a 21% increase among people aged 45 to 54.
There was an 8% increase among males since 2021, and a 12% increase among females. In January, two Australian studies published in the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry revealed alarming levels of mental illness among teenage girls in particular, who are least likely to be admitted to hospital when seeking treatment.
The Victorian state coroner, John Cain, said it was “troubling to see an increase in suicides emerge in the last few months of 2022”.
“It is not clear what is driving this increase – especially amongst those 65 and over – but we are monitoring closely to see if this trend continues,” he said.
The head of suicide prevention research at the University of New South Wales-affiliated Black Dog Institute, Associate Prof Fiona Shand, said the data “is consistent with what we’re seeing in other jurisdictions”. The most recent New South Wales data shows 885 suspected or confirmed suicide deaths reported in from 1 January to 30 November 2022, compared with 818 over the same period the year prior.
“While the Victorian coroner has indicated we can’t be sure of what is driving the trend just yet … we really need to be looking at some key areas in terms of suicide prevention,” Shand said.
“Access to affordable and high quality mental health care is something that’s really suffered over many years, and we saw the health system really show us those gaps during the pandemic. That’s getting worse. When they manage to receive care, people are getting it too late.”
It is crucial that governments respond to social and economic stressors, she added. Suicide rates dropped during the early years of pandemic because of social supports such as jobseeker and jobkeeper which helped ease living pressures, she said.
“But people are now facing layer upon layer upon layer of difficulty over the last three or four years, having been hit by the longer term pandemic impacts, financial stressors including increasing interest rates and high cost of living,” Shand said. “And we know that those things do have an impact on suicide rates.”
In its submission last month to the Senate’s cost of living inquiry, Suicide Prevention Australia wrote that it is “deeply concerned about the growing number of Australian families and households struggling with the rising cost of living”.
“We are concerned that soaring living costs are continuing to increase rates of distress and the risk of suicide in our community,” it added.
“Sadly, a recent survey identified that cost of living is one of the highest rated risk factors for suicide over the next 12 months for Australians. The evidence shows that people who have experienced severe financial strain may have a 20-fold higher risk of suicide,” the submission read.
Suicide Prevention Australia’s deputy CEO, Matthew McLean, said the federal government had made a lot of strong commitments to mental health and suicide prevention funding. “But we haven’t actually seen all of those promises delivered through on-the-ground services where they’re needed,” he said.
“We need additional support for those most at risk. We really need to strengthen those investments in protective supports, such as basic income support, housing access, and housing affordability.”
In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org
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