Suicides, Australia, 1994 to 2004

The following is taken from this Australian Bureau of Statistics report released on 14 March 2006.


Suicide continues to be a major public health issue. Although death by suicide is a relatively uncommon event (1.6% of all deaths registered in 2004 were attributed to suicide), the human and economic costs are substantial.

Suicide can be defined as the deliberate taking of one’s life(Footnote: Butterworth Concise Australian Legal Dictionary, 1997). To be classified as a suicide, a death must be recognised as being due to other than natural causes. It must also be established by coronial enquiry that the death resulted from a deliberate act of the deceased with the intention of ending his or her own life.

This publication contains summary statistics on deaths registered in Australia between 1994 and 2004 (the most recent year for which data are available), where the underlying cause of death was determined as suicide. Data on deaths from suicide are presented disaggregated by sex, age, method of suicide and state or territory of usual residence.

All data are presented by year of registration, rather than the year in which the death occurred. Over the last decade, around 93% of suicide deaths were registered in the same year in which the death occurred, and 7% in the year immediately following.


Total number of suicide deaths

There were 2,098 deaths from suicide registered in 2004. This number was a decrease from 2,213 registered in the previous year. Males comprised nearly 80% of these deaths.

Numbers of suicides have decreased in recent years following peaks in 1997 and 1998. However, despite these decreases, suicide remains a major external cause of death. For example in each of the years from 1994 to 2004, the total number of deaths from suicide was greater than the number of deaths from transport accidents.

Ratio of suicide to total deaths

While suicide accounts for only a small proportion (1.6%) of deaths of persons of all ages, it accounts for a greater proportion of deaths from all causes in specific age groups (see graph below). For example, suicide deaths make up more than 20 percent of deaths from all causes, in each five year age group for males between 20 to 39 years. Similarly for females, suicide deaths comprise a much higher proportion of total deaths in younger age groups compared with older age groups.

Age-standardised rates

Age standardisation allows comparison of rates between populations with different age structures. The age-standardised suicide rate (for persons) in 2004 was 6% lower than the corresponding rate for the previous year and 29% lower than in 1997.

The age-standardised suicide rate in 2004 for males was 16.8 per 100,000 while the corresponding rate for females was 4.3 per 100,000 (see final columns of Tables 2 and 3).

Throughout the period 1994 to 2004 the male age-standardised suicide death rate was approximately four times higher than the corresponding female rate.

Age-specific rates

The highest age-specific suicide death rate for males in 2004 was observed in the 30-34 years age group (29.2 per 100,000 ) and the lowest was in the 15-19 years age group (7.5 per 100,000). For females the highest age-specific suicide death rate in 2004 was observed in the 45-49 years age group (7.1 per 100,000) and the lowest in the 70-74 years age group (3.7 per 100,000)(see Table 2).


In 2004 the most frequent method of suicide was hanging, which was used in almost half (48%) of all suicide deaths. The next most used methods were poisoning by ‘other’ (including motor vehicle exhaust) (19%), poisoning by drugs (11%), and methods using firearms (8%). The remaining group (Other) comprised 14% of suicide deaths and included deaths from drowning, jumping from a high place, and other methods. Over the decade a clear pattern was apparent in methods using firearms. Suicide deaths using firearms have more than halved over this period, from 420 deaths in 1994, to 169 deaths in 2004. See Table 4 for data on broad groupings of method of suicide.


Suicide rates in states and territories may fluctuate over time particularly in the smaller jurisdictions, because of the small number of suicides that may be registered annually. Therefore caution should be exercised when comparing annual state and territory suicide data. Other factors such as the higher rate of suicide in rural areas may contribute to differences across states and territories. In the Northern Territory, the high rate of suicide in the Indigenous population contributes to the high rate of suicide in that jurisdiction. See The Health and Welfare of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, 2005 (cat. no. 4704.0, page 159) for more information on suicide deaths in the Indigenous population.

Combining data for five years allows more reliable comparison of suicide rates across the states and territories. The graph below shows age-standardised suicide rates for the states and territories using the most recent five years of data (registration years 2000-2004) combined.

For this period, high rates were evident in the Northern Territory (more than double the national rate), followed by Tasmania (26% above the national rate) and Queensland (16% above the national rate). New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT all had rates lower than the national rate.


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