Steep suicide decline labelled an ABS ‘spin’
A SENIOR mental health leader has criticised the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) for announcing a decline in suicides over 10 years, saying the bureau ignored the likelihood that rates have risen in recent years amid the global economic downturn.
The ABS reported suicides in Australia fell by 17% from 12.7 to 10.5 deaths per 100,000 people from 2001 to 2010. It said that although suicide remained the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15–34, rates for males in that age range fell sharply.
But Professor Ian Hickie, executive director of Sydney University’s Brain and Mind Research Institute, accused the ABS of giving a “misleading interpretation” that could have public health consequences.
He said that by focusing on an arbitrary 10-year comparison, the ABS had ignored the fact that suicide rates globally had fallen in the economic boom period between the late 1990s and early 2000s “with no discernible fall from 2005–06 onwards”.
He said suicide rates globally may even be rising since the start of the global financial crisis, and “Australia’s also been affected by those issues”.
“We get a disconnect between the expertise in the area and a very simplistic approach by the ABS. Ten year trends are not that meaningful when you’ve had a major economic downturn in the last three years,” Professor Hickie said.
ABS director of social and demographic statistics James Hinkins agreed that figures indicated “a decrease followed by a flattening” in the suicide rate, but said overall the rates had fallen in the 10-year period and that the ABS had provisions to allow for deaths classified as suicides after a delay, such as following an inquest.