The Australian Bureau of Statistics has released new data showing that 3,128 people took their own lives in 2017.
When I first heard that figure I found myself hoping the numbers were wrong or that the ABS had changed the way it collates the statistics, but, unfortunately, that was not the case.
The 2017 rate of death by suicide was equal to 2015 – at 12.6 per 100,000 – the highest in the past 10 years.
I used to say the average number of suicides per day was eight. Now I have to say it has risen to 8.6. What is unchanged is that men are still three times more likely to take their own lives.
And the rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples has also remained twice the national average.
So, I realise we have to accept the sad fact that the number of suicides is increasing.
But accepting that truth comes with a challenge to all of us… to try harder to make a difference.
It must serve as a call to action, not despair.
With 3,128 lives cut short in 2017 many thousands more – loved-ones, friends, work colleagues, acquaintances and communities – were left to grieve and wonder when this tide will turn.
Reaching a 10-year high in suicide numbers is truly painful to think about, but we can’t give in.
As I have travelled the country from Adelaide to Perth, the Barossa Valley to Mackay, Sydney and Melbourne over the last few weeks, I have talked to many people about mental health. As I absorb the ABS statistics, I can picture the faces of those I met who are really trying to understand suicide.
I think of those I spoke to on World Suicide Prevention Day, who had lost loved-ones. No matter how many years had passed since the tragedy, their grief was still deep.
People often ask me whether other Western countries see such differences in male and female rates. Do other nations record more women thinking about and attempting suicide, but men more likely to die?
The answer is ‘yes’. The United States, New Zealand and the United Kingdom all record suicide by men at about three times the rate of women.
Across the general population the suicide rate in New Zealand is similar to Australia. The USA is markedly higher and the UK significantly less.
There are people far more expert than me in analysing these figures and trends. But the numbers tell me two things: Firstly, we can and should learn from nations with lower death rates; secondly, the fact that men are more likely than women to take their own lives is not a uniquely Australian issue.
Everybody has a role to play when it comes to tackling suicide.
Research tells us you don’t need to be a health professional to help save a life. A caring conversation with a family member, friend or colleague, who may be contemplating suicide can make all the difference.
It might be a hard conversation to start, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Don’t be afraid to ask if you are concerned somebody is thinking about suicide. Research tells us that talking about suicide does not make it happen and it might just save a life.
If you would like to find out how best to have that discussion, please visit #YouCanTalk.
And please check out the material available from Beyond Blue and find out about our suicide safety planning app called BeyondNow.
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