A state of the nation report by Suicide Prevention Australia (SPA) has underscored the tragedy that about 5 million people nationwide know somebody who took their life in the last 12 months.
SPA says the role that the pandemic has played in this finding, including widespread experiences of social isolation, economic challenges and lost jobs, are all relevant features of the past year.
About 25% of the 1,049 respondents to the SPA’s survey reported knowing someone in their personal life or network who either died by or attempted suicide.
In the past 12 months, the 3,318 people died from suicide — which is about three times the number of deaths from COVID-19.
History has showed that major increases in suicides are often linked to major social and economic events, SPA CEO Nieves Murray said. Given the state of Australia’s challenges responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, she said urgent action was needed.
“There have never been more lives lost to suicide in this country,” Murray said.
“We know social and economic isolation are the biggest drivers of suicide rates and COVID-19 has seen Australians subject to 18 months of rolling lockdowns and disruption to their personal lives, employment and businesses.
“We’ve seen how quickly COVID-19 cases can get out of hand and we need to have the same national policy focus and vigilance to stop suicide rates doing the same,” she said.
The report is the second of its kind and will be published on Friday 10 September — world suicide prevention day. It also found that over 1 in 4 people reported they have directly or indirectly sought help from a suicide prevention service in the last 12 months.
The SPA is calling for a national suicide prevention law that it says has the support of 66% of Australians, which would require all high level government decisions to consider and mitigate suicide risks. Similar legislation has been introduced in countries like Japan.
Murray said a new law would be a low-cost, low-risk and high-outcome option to address suicide rates in Australia.
“We all have a role to play in preventing suicide. An Act will legislate a whole-of-government priority to prevent suicide and focus the attention of every agency to address the risk of suicide across our community,” Murray said.
“Suicide prevention isn’t limited to health portfolios. Housing is suicide prevention, employment is suicide prevention, finance is suicide prevention, and education is suicide prevention,” Murray said.
“The heightened economic and social threat posed by COVID-19 means we cannot afford to wait to legislate.”