Approximately 5 million Australians know someone who has committed suicide in the past twelve months, according to preliminary findings from Suicide Prevention Australia's second State of the Nation Report, and unemployment and job insecurity linked to COVID-19 are the second biggest driver after socio-economic isolation.
Addressing the gravity of the situation at hand, Suicide Prevention Australia CEO Nieves Murray pointed out that the number of deaths from suicide over the last year - over 3,300 - is three times the number of deaths from COVID, and that such peaks in the suicide rate tend to correlate with major socio-economic events such as the ongoing pandemic. For example, during the global financial crisis Australian unemployment achieved a relatively trivial increase from 4.0% to 5.8%, but this coincided with a rise in suicide rates of 22% and 12% for unemployed men and women respectively.
This time around, unemployment and job security pose a 53% risk to male suicide rates and a 64% risk to female suicide rates. Young people between the age of 12-25 years are believed to be the highest-risk age group, with one possible cause being that casual employment and entry-level employment has been severely hit by the pandemic. Unemployment rates hit 6.5% in 2020, and around 2.3 million Aussies either lost their jobs or faced work hours reduction last year.
Murray called for legislation to address the risk to Australian lives, and for government decisions around national COVID-19 repair and recovery to factor in suicide mitigation.
“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," she said. “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. The heightened economic and social threat posed by COVID-19 means we cannot afford to wait to legislate."
According to Murray, 66% of the population supports the idea that the government should frame national legislation solely aimed at mitigating suicide risks. A similar attempt has been taken by Japan, which has, so far, proven to be successful.
The 2021 Suicide Prevention Australia State of the Nation report will be published on September 10, 2021.