In Australia, suicide is a leading cause of death with 2,273 deaths (aged over 15 years) in 2011 (1,747 male deaths and 546 female deaths), representing 1.5% of all deaths over the age of 15.1 Most deaths by suicide are among young people. An estimated 436 people aged between 15-25 years committed suicide, representing 19% of deaths by suicide and over one-quarter of total deaths in this age cohort.1
A death by suicide has a flow-on effect, impacting the lives of any number of individuals – from family to friends, colleagues, clinicians, coronial staff, volunteers of bereavement support services and other associates – who inevitably suffer intense and conflicted emotional distress in response to a death of this kind.2 The combination of grief, guilt and remorse can remain for years and potentially, three to four generations can be bereaved.
Suicide is an under researched problem in Australia, particularly among young people.3 Little is known about the risk factors for suicide among young Australians (gender, age, education, occupation, residence, socio economic status) and even less is known about the prevention of suicide due to a lack of awareness of suicide as a major problem and the taboo in many societies to discuss it openly.3
In Australia, the National Coronial Information System (NCIS) is considered the gold standard for suicide data.3 The NCIS is a national internet based data storage and retrieval system for Australian coronial cases.4,5 It is utilised by coroners, government agencies and researchers for identifying cases for death investigation, research and to monitor external causes of death in Australia.
Dr Milner, a collaborator on this project, is one of Australia’s leading suicide researchers. Her research has predominantly focused on the relationship between suicide and employment. Using NCIS data, Milner et al., found that while being employed was associated with reduced risk of suicide overall, suicide rates are differentially distributed across industry and occupational groups. In particular, the authors found a stepwise gradient in risk, with the lowest skilled occupations being at greater risk of suicide than the highest skill-level group.6
Doran et al (2015) recently utilised NCIS data to estimate the economic cost of suicide and suicide behaviour in the New South Wales Construction Industry and the potential impact of a multimodal suicide prevention strategy called Mates in Construction (MIC) in reducing this cost.7 The authors developed a costing framework and quantified the average cost of a suicide at $2.14 million. The economic cost of suicide and suicide behaviour in the NSW Construction Industry was estimated at $527 million. The benefit cost ratio of implementing MIC was 4.6:1, suggesting that for every dollar invested in this prevention program, the return to society would be $4.60, representing a positive economic investment of public funds.
Although the NCIS is the gold standard in suicide data, no study has used this data source to examine suicide among young Australians or the economic impact of such action. Our research will address these issues using high quality data and sophisticated analytical techniques. Our project brings together leading Australian mental health researchers that will work collaboratively to generate output that will contribute to our knowledge about suicide among young people and strengthen the evidence base for effective policy.
Professor Chris Doran, Dr Rod Ling