Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Suicide Blondes and Blacks

By Simon Grose

Common perceptions of the incidence of suicide are shaped more by populist fears than real data.

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We are weathering many crises these days, mainly because “crisis” is an over-exercised word as protagonists and agonists beat up their concerns. When it comes to suicide, “epidemic” is a subset of the crisis mentality, generally applied by mental health lobbyists to attract attention to the prevalence of people choosing to actively spin out of the mortal coil.

In April, on Q&A, former House Speaker Anna Burke said: “Suicide is an epidemic but we don’t talk about it”. If you google “suicide epidemic” keywords like “indigenous”, “veterans” and “teenage” lead the lists on your screen. It’s a worry, until you get some stats.

“For every later year, the reported number of suicide deaths has been lower than in 1999–00”. That’s from Trends in Injury Deaths, Australia: 1999–00 to 2009–10, published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) in May this year.

“The largest difference occurred in 2004–05 when there were 473 fewer suicide deaths than in 1999–00 … the average annual decrease was 3.4% per year between 2001–02 and 2007–08.”

The table below, from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, shows the same trend over a slightly later decadal period. It’s not a declining trend – more like bumping along under the rolling average – but definitely not a gathering rise.

Crisis? What crisis? Epidemic? Schmepidemic.

Taking a...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.