Do you want suicide figures published? [With poll]

johnboy 28 March 2012 51

The Greens’ Amanda Bresnan is calling for an end to to the Catholic driven taboo on discussing suicide:

ACT Greens Health spokesperson, Amanda Bresnan MLA, will today call on the ACT Legislative Assembly to break the silence on suicide, by having figures on the ACT suicide toll released to the public biannually.

“There is a great deal of stigma when it comes to talking about suicide. Experts such as 2010 Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry and leading community and mental health organisations have long advised that public reporting of suicide should occur. We need to break the silence if we are to ease the suffering of people who confront the issue and save lives,” Ms Bresnan said today.

“Because of the lack of discussion, many in the community are not aware that suicide is the leading killer of our young people. It is the leading cause of death for men under the age of 44 and women under the age of 34 in Australia.

“There is a considerable difference between community awareness and government campaigning about road safety, for example, in comparison to suicide prevention, even though the suicide rate is about two to three times higher.

“According to the ABS Cause of Deaths report released last week, at least 35 people died in the ACT as a result of intention to self-harm in 2010, and all were aged between 15 and 55. However, suicides are underreported and the figure may be higher.

“I am calling on the Minister for Health to table these figures twice a year in the Assembly, to keep the focus on the issue and encourage discussion. The community needs to be able to talk publicly about suicide.

So what do you think of this proposal deal reader?

Reporting of suicide numbers

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51 Responses to Do you want suicide figures published? [With poll]
DJ Mac DJ Mac 7:18 am 03 Apr 12

I’m all dead-set against the suicide taboo, and it is HIGH TIME we dispensed with the Catholic-driven head-in-the-sand attitude.

While I acknowledge that the Catholic Church has a very strong anti suicide stance – there is no stated policy on the publication of suicide figures – there is no policy against discussing it – so why this attitude against this one religious group in particular? I can’t think of any religious group that considers taking your own life a good thing.

The policy against publication was made in response to the Psychological professional community believing that it was a bad thing NOT any particular religious group. So let’s get away from this blame game and actually discuss the issue.

dundle dundle 9:44 pm 02 Apr 12

I know one of those 35. I think in some ways more reporting is good – it’s good to break the silence and have people know about warning signs etc.

On the other hand, we do get a fair bit of advertising in warnings signs way without going into specifics and maybe that’s good enough. Also, sometimes there aren’t warning signs, and stats might just be used to satisfy morbid curiosity. As someone posted above, they have found a copycat effect, and while those of us in a relatively healthy frame of mind might want publication, who knows what people who are less healthy would think if they are faced with more information on this – I don’t think it’s necessarily true they will either do it or they won’t regardless.

So…I’m undecided.

ThatUniStudent ThatUniStudent 9:09 am 29 Mar 12

Prove it. Please provide a link to those studies.
I’m not saying you’re wring, but too many ‘facts’ stated on the RA just seem to be people’s opinions. Back it up with proof please.

CitizenK said :

Studies have shown that publicising suicide numbers increases the subsequent number of suicide attempts.
I am all for all the appropriate agencies, services, mental health units, community groups knowing all this information – and more, but imagine the Canberra Times (or the tabloids, newspapers and TV shows…) having a tally board on their front page. Suicides to date: Last year to date (a target?)… you think they wouldn’t do this? think again (School and hospital ranking tables etc??)
It is not necessary to hide these figures but please don’t give the poor quality Australian media an opportunity to play games with the numbers.

debk41 debk41 7:44 am 29 Mar 12

I think this a great idea, my husband took his own life in 2002 at the age of 32, I never hid it from the kids and we often speak openly about it, our son was just 2 at the time, the girls aged 4, 5, 8 and10 at the time, i wanted them to grow up knowing it was nothing that any of us did but his choice to take his own life and that we could get through it,I think a lot of people sweep it under the carpet but i believe suicide shouldn’t be

cleo cleo 3:45 am 29 Mar 12

Well it is Canberra after all, lets just sweep everything under the carpet, and maybe just maybe everything will go away.

bd84 bd84 11:38 pm 28 Mar 12

Information regarding the number of suicides needs to be out there for community awareness, however the details of method do not. Nor do I think that these details need to be tabled in the legislative assembly twice a year. Sure the information needs to be made available for politicians and the community to make informed decisions regarding support and funding, but I very much doubt that the difference between two, six month period will make a significant difference in the scheme of things. I’m sure much more information regarding the finer details are available to the people who need it.

NickD NickD 9:12 pm 28 Mar 12

Given that the ABS regularly releases these data, I’m not sure why the ACT Government needs to do so as well.

As Amanda Bresnan notes in her press release, the ABS released data on the number of suicides per state last week (see Tab 11.5 in the the Suicide (Australia) Excel file at ). This is an annual publication.

Given that the number of suicides in the ACT has varied little over the last 10 years and is the third-lowest rate in Australia (which isn’t bad considering our relatively young population structure), it’s hard to see what benefit there is in the ACT government producing and tabling figures twice a year. I think that Bresnan’s head is in the right place, but this isn’t a practical way of doing anything about suicide.

Kate_Greens Kate_Greens 4:34 pm 28 Mar 12

A Senate Committee Report from 2010 on this issue recommended that:

“the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General, in consultation with the National Committee for Standardised Reporting on Suicide, standardise coronial legislation and practices to improve the accurate reporting of suicide.”

Senate report is available at

Mr Gillespie Mr Gillespie 4:21 pm 28 Mar 12

We get reminded of the road toll through the media on a daily basis even though the leading causes of death are cancer, heart attack/failure, etc. while “road trauma” accounts for a relatively small percentage yet takes up 80% of the media’s death reportage.

I’m all dead-set against the suicide taboo, and it is HIGH TIME we dispensed with the Catholic-driven head-in-the-sand attitude.

p1 p1 4:19 pm 28 Mar 12

videodrome said :

“According to the ABS Cause of Deaths report released last week, at least 35 people died in the ACT as a result of intention to self-harm in 2010, and all were aged between 15 and 55. However, suicides are underreported and the figure may be higher.”

How can suicides be underreported? Surely the coroner knows the cause of death in every case?

Example: Car drives off road at high speed and into tree. Did person intend to die?

Example: Person over doses on heroin. Did they intend to die?

videodrome videodrome 4:04 pm 28 Mar 12

“According to the ABS Cause of Deaths report released last week, at least 35 people died in the ACT as a result of intention to self-harm in 2010, and all were aged between 15 and 55. However, suicides are underreported and the figure may be higher.”

How can suicides be underreported? Surely the coroner knows the cause of death in every case?

davesfk davesfk 4:01 pm 28 Mar 12

not sure if this story is about the statistical reporting (a more learned colleague of mine pointed out to me that there is already a fair bit of info about suicide in the ABS report quoted by Bresnan: data cube Available at admittedly not produced biannually and with a reasonable time lag (fairly understandable in stats of this nature) but there’s a lot of information available. not really sure how producing the stats biannually actually does anything different?

If we’re talking about how the media reports, and community discusses, suicide – it’s a completely different kettle of fish – and definitely worth having an open and broad discussion.

Little_Green_Bag Little_Green_Bag 3:58 pm 28 Mar 12

There is little doubt we need a more open attitude to the reporting of suicide.

Occasionally media outlets say they will be more forthcoming with suicide details (Daily Telegraph editorial 7/10/08 “Suicide story must be told”) but time after time we see the same old covering up and vague reporting trying to mask the fact that a death is actually a suicide.

I sent a private email to an editor a few years back asking why the word suicide is never used and the euphemism “no suspicious circumstances” substituted and I was told that it was police jargon and that the media does not elaborate in order to avoid copycat cases.

As far as “no suspicious circumstances” is concerned, there are signs that the public has cottoned onto the phrase and now believe that whenever it is used it means suicide. This is causing confusion as evidenced by the case last year when RA published the police statement using the phrase about a death in LBG and contributors here immediately jumped to the conclusion that it was suicide when – in fact – it wasn’t.

I can’t see how simply reporting the statistics would cause copycat cases. As long as the actual method of departure isn’t specified and that details are confined to comparisons with other forms of death – ie: more people committed suicide last year than the number who died on the roads – it can only benefit us all in the long run.

As long as we continue to ignore or downplay the issue the more the numbers will rise.

TAD TAD 3:56 pm 28 Mar 12

In the ACT there are about 40 suicides a year but that figure varies up or down year to year by about 10.

Men are over represented by a great margin.

The numbers of those with mental health histories are not as high as you think.

A couple are teens, 40s the most common.

The most common method is hanging.

The most common reason is relationship breakdown.

CitizenK CitizenK 3:45 pm 28 Mar 12

Finally a riotact thread with thoughtful and considered comments. A discussion of the issues is critical in this area. An overarching conceptual philosophy put forward by a politician or political party is often dangerous.

The McGorry article is brilliant, thanks Random. And Kate from the Greens, the Mind Frame stuff is most valuable.

All this kind of material needs to be taken into account when designing new reporting frameworks.

steveu steveu 3:25 pm 28 Mar 12

I think a step forward like this is needed.

Funding of services like BeyondBlue have helped alot IMHO (male completion rates have dropped from 5x more likely than women to complete, to 4x more likely to complete). Though I think further steps are needed. Like letting people know its happening out there, and they are not the only ones etc. they may actually be more likely to get help.

I too, feel uncomfortable with the concept that information is being withheld from us for our own good.

Kate_Greens Kate_Greens 2:42 pm 28 Mar 12

The guidelines for media reporting about suicide are available at Mindframes –

Important not to discuss location or method of individual cases so as to avoid copycat cases.

We do however need to talk about suicide more generally as an issue in our community, otherwise we are adding to the stigma and isolating those confronting the issue.

buzz819 buzz819 2:41 pm 28 Mar 12

Wow, CitizenK, thanks for proving my point, a nearly 15 year old report on suicides that occurred over 20-30 years ago, just like I said, outdated and does not represent society today.

Saying that 12 people committed suicide in the last 6 months and leave the information at that, will not get more people to commit suicide.

To say that, for the same 12 people, 8 people committed suicide by intentionally overdosing on drugs, 2 by hanging and 2 by slitting their wrists all in the last 6 months, will possibly show that people who are at a higher risk of committing suicide will attempt the most common and successful method, ie. overdosing. Does that mean they would not have attempted in the first place?

The more awareness there is, the more help lines these people have, hopefully the less likely it will be for someone to do it.

random random 2:28 pm 28 Mar 12

Found an article by McGorry here. I think the general idea is that to prevent copycat suicides you shouldn’t, say, include lurid details about the method of death, which does encourage those at risk to try the same method. He says:

However, the old guidelines lacked context, which resulted in an overly narrow interpretation that effectively prohibited the reporting of suicide all together in most instances.

The unintended consequence of this approach was that the media did not bear witness to the distress of Australians who end their own lives and the corrosive effects of these daily deaths on the family and friends they leave behind. Instead of a national conversation informed by empathy and understanding we had silence. This national silence only reenforced the silence surrounding distressed people who often feel too ashamed, too guilty and too stigmatised to put up their hand and ask for help. This national culture of secrecy about suicide not only prevented more effective outreach to those at risk of suicide, it also hampered the ability of the bereaved families and friends to recover from their loss.

While sensibly retaining clear guidelines on how to responsibly report suicide, the Press Council have now added the much needed missing context that reporting of suicide can be in the public interest and can also help the healing process of those bereaved by suicide. This change is therefore a major step towards ending the shame and silence that has for too long characterized our national approach to suicide. We now have the opportunity to replace that shame and silence about suicide with open, sensitive and responsible public discussion.

Greater public awareness and understanding about suicide will create an environment that is more supportive of people experiencing mental distress. If a person does feel suicidal it is likely that they are frightened by these feelings. By asking them about these feelings we can give them permission to talk, and in most cases they will feel relieved and better able to overcome periods of suicidality. If effective help is provided suicidal urges almost always subside.

NoAddedMSG NoAddedMSG 2:27 pm 28 Mar 12

CitizenK said :

Being at work today, I don’t have time to dig out the research, but there is plenty. Here is some at

An extract…

… Results. A logistic regression analysis determined that characteristics of the [media] stories were key predictors of finding a copycat effect. Studies measuring the presence of either an entertainment or political celebrity suicide were 14.3 times more likely to find a copycat effect than studies that did not. Studies based on real stories as opposed to fictional stories were 4.03 times more apt to uncover an imitation effect. The medium of coverage was a significant predictor of copycat effects with televised stories being 82 percent less likely to affect suicide than newspaper-based stories…

So maybe we should be more worried about the TV reportage than the newspaper….

You can not ignore the copycat effect – it is real, and if figures are published without other prevention mechanisms put in place, then I have no doubt that numbers in subsequent years would increase.

Who wants that on their conscience?

That particular study however was only looking at the time period 1974 – 1996, a lot has changed since then ,and this is one of those topics which needs to be constantly revisited and reconsidered using current data which reflects the changing patterns of societal interactions and thinking. For example, now people can connect in on the internet with all sorts of info about suicide, and thus does this mean that the copy-cat effect is less pronounced because those who would normally have been influenced by main-stream media reports have already been hanging out in suicide chat rooms and one way or another acting on their feelings?

That said, one of the key issues is indeed that one of the big risk factors for suicide is familiarity with it (ie if a family member or friend has suicided, or you have had a lot of exposure to it somehow). I have never seen anything which has untangled in a convincing manner the issue of familiarity and how society should deal with this as a whole in terms of public discussion. As has been mentioned, when you are dealing with it on a person-to-person basis, you just ask upfront if someone is having suicidal thoughts, but that is a very different situation to someone alone in their room reading media commentary on the topic without anyone around them.

I have also heard a great deal of speculation about how many single vehicle accidents and drug overdoses were accidental. I’d add into that my suspicion that the suicide rates in the over 70 population may be quite a bit higher than is reported, for a very long list of reasons to do with how society views suicide by the elderly.

It is all very complicated, and I would really rather that this was decided based on solid review of recent research by experts in the field, and NOT by politicians who while well meaning are not experts on the area.

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