There have been five more suspected suicides this year than last, but significantly fewer than 2017, new data from the interim Queensland Suicide Register (iQSR) shows.

Short-term data from police reports comprising the iQSR recorded 508 suspected suicides from January 1 to August 31 2020, five more than the same period in 2019 (503) but 18 less than 2017 (526).

Reporting police officers mentioned COVID-19 in 41 police reports during this period, and there appeared to be an impact of COVID-19 in 37 suspected suicides.

“There is much uncertainty around the medium and long-term impacts of COVID-19 on suicide mortality in Australia,” said Professor David Crompton, Professor of Mental Health Research at the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention (AISRAP).

“Changes in Queensland that might affect suicide mortality include the duration and intensity of restrictions, the timeframe of the Queensland economy recovering and the impact of state and federal government interventions to reduce the economic and social effects of COVID-19.

“Therefore, we don’t know enough to understand the full impact of COVID-19 on suspected suicides. And it is important to note that suicide is not influenced or caused by one factor but results from a complex interaction between multiple risk factors.”

The Queensland Suicide Register Annual Report, released on World Suicide Prevention Day reports that 757 suspected suicides were registered in 2019, with 570 males (5.6% decrease since 2018) and 187 females (7.4% increase since 2018). This figure amounts to just under 15 suspected suicides for every 100,000 people.

Suspected suicide numbers and rates were highest in males aged 40-49 and females 45-49.

More suicide prevention interventions needed for males

QSR Project Manager and AISRAP Senior Research Assistant Dr Stuart Leske said as males accounted for more than 75% of suspected suicides, interventions that reduce suicides in males were crucial.

“There is a lack of knowledge about effective suicide prevention interventions for males, young and old,’’ he said.

“Adolescent females, however, appear more likely than males to benefit from existing suicide prevention initiatives. Future research focusing on male suicide risk should consider men’s lived experiences of suicidal behaviour and how male gender moderates the effectiveness of specific suicide interventions.”

In 2019, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander females living in Queensland accounted for 11.9% of all female suicides with Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander males accounting for 8.3% of all male suicides.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have an increased likelihood of knowing someone who has died by suicide and a much higher risk of reporting exposures to multiple suicides,’’ Dr Leske said.

“Current research and policy environments in Australia are increasingly recognising the importance of connection to culture and community as protective factors in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, including community and individual resilience in dealing with trauma and stress.”

There were 36 (1.5% of all) suspected suicides by persons identified as LGBTIQ+ from 2017 to 2019.

“These figures likely underrepresent the actual number of LGBTIQ+ suicides, as they rely on police or coronial reports, disclosure by friends or family, or identification of same-sex relationships,’’ Dr Leske said.

The Queensland Suicide Register, which also includes data from post-mortem autopsy, toxicology and coroners’ reports, recorded 2,129 deaths by suicide in Queensland in the three years from 2014 to 2016.

More than one in four people dying by suicide were unemployed (26.7%). The most frequent adverse life events before suicides were relationship separation (27.1% of all deaths by suicide) and financial problems (18.3%).

Mental health conditions were prominent in those who died by suicide, with 51.5% reportedly having a diagnosed mental health condition. There was evidence of untreated mental health concerns in 38% of all those dying by suicide.

The QSR is a longstanding public health surveillance system operating since 1990 including records on all confirmed, probable and suspected suicides by Queensland residents from 1990 to 2016. AISRAP developed the iQSR in 2011. The iQSR is a real-time public health surveillance system receiving reports of suspected suicides as the police report those to coroners. AISRAP manages the QSR and iQSR, and the Queensland Mental Health Commission funds the QSR.

If this article raises concerns for you, please contact:

Lifeline 13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467