Following its exploration into social and economic trends likely to impact suicide numbers, Suicide Prevention Australia is hosting a panel discussion in Brisbane at the end of the month to tackle themes raised in its white paper, Turning points: imagine a world without suicide.
Co-written with KPMG, the white paper was released in September 2019 and is part of a series that will be rolled out examining emerging social and economic trends and their likely effect on Australians in the coming decade.
The paper examines the impact of housing affordability, the gig economy and relationships, noting that these must be tackled creatively if we are to reduce suicide risk.
“We are focused on an integrated approach to suicide prevention encompassing mental health, social, economic and community factors,” writes Angela Emslie, chair of the national peak suicide prevention body.
The Suicide Prevention Australia (SPA) paper draws on recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics combined with an online survey of 1064 Australians aged 18 or older. In 2017 the ABS reported a suicide rate of 12.7 deaths per 100,000 people - an average of six men and two women a day.This could potentially escalate to 3,800 or more deaths per year by 2030, based on ABS population projections.
The cost of suicide in Australia is stark and continues to rise. In 2017, the economic impact of suicide to society was estimated to be $2.2 billion in direct (coronial, ambulatory, police, and counselling support) and indirect (foregone lifetime earnings) costs – up from $1.7 billion in 2012. Annually, suicide contributes to over 120,000 years of life lost relative to current life expectancy – half of which were aged within the working population.
Australians believe that economic security and changes to family and relationships will be some of the biggest risks to suicide rates over the next 10 years.
The white paper notes that while mental illness is a suicide risk factor, contemporary theories of suicide emphasise the importance of other life stressors in influencing behaviour. These include financial hardship in connection with the loss of a job and the increase in average daily alcohol consumption following job loss.
Long periods of unemployment can result in decreased self-esteem and anxiety about the future; unemployed males are 4.6 times more likely to suicide than employed males.
As more Australians are employed as contractors or hired for ‘gigs’ rather than having the security of long-term employment with an organisation, they lose benefits associated with full-time employment such as professional development, superannuation, annual leave, paid sick leave and so on. The gig economy and the use of contractors and freelancers can lead to a lack of social connection.
Housing, loans and personal debt is another stressor called out in the white paper.
House prices have risen by 70% in Sydney since 2012 and 50% in Melbourne. The former Australian dream of owning your own home is much harder to achieve, in fact the ABS reported that in 2016, 29% of Australian households were classified as ‘over-indebted’.
“Australian Housing Urban Research Institute have already found that the burden of mortgage debt is leading to mental distress and worsening mental health outcomes from those who are faced with unsustainable mortgage repayments,” reports the SPA.
'Buy now, pay later' services are particularly attractive to younger people on incomes less than $40,000. They are not required to provide credit checks to approve loans and are extremely vulnerable to amassing large debts. Data shows that 60% of these customers are aged between 18 and 34.
Another trend impacting social connection is the rising number of single person households, which now number 25% according to the ABS.
Relationship breakdown is cited as a stronger risk for males: research shows that divorced men are eight times more likely to die by suicide than divorced women.
“Male wellbeing is closely related to the stability and support they experience within long term relationships. Research found that strong family relationships and networks are more highly valued by men than friendships, which may contribute to the long-term negative effects of relationship loss. This may increase the risk of suicidal behaviour, and potentially contribute to suicide being the leading cause of death in men between the ages of 15 and 44.”
And technology is not helping. The SPA survey showed that half of the respondents who felt lonely were more likely to use Facebook to connect with friends and family.
The SPA panel discussion will take place on 27 Feb from 5.30pm to 7pm at MATES in Construction Qld.
Speakers at the forum include John Brady from MATES in Construction, Ivan Frkovic, Commissioner of Queensland’s Mental Health Commission, Andrew Anderson, CEO United Synergies and Dr Meg Perceval, an OzHelp project manager.
Take action for men’s health