Youth Suicide in Australia

  • Facts & figures

    • Suicide is a leading cause of death among young people, second only to motor vehicle accidents.
    • Suicide rates among 15-24 year old males have trebled between 1960 and 1990.
    • In remote rural Australia suicide rates for young males are nearly twice those of males living in capital cities.
    • Suicide is rare in childhood (<14 years) but becomes much more common during adolescence. The rise in suicide is most rapid between the ages of 15 to 19 years but there is a further increase between the age of 20 to 24 years.
    • Rates of suicide in Indigenous communities have been increasing since the 1970's. The majority of Aboriginal people who suicide are under the age of 29. Overall, the suicide rate in Indigenous communities may be 40% higher than the rate of non-Indigenous suicide.

    Suicide attempts and self-harming behaviours

    Surveys conducted at the Centre for Adolescent Health indicate that approximately 5% of young people engage in self harming behaviour.
    Females are more likely than males to engage in self-harming behaviours, and young people have higher rates of deliberate self-harm than adults.
    Australian studies have found that between 23.5% and 49% of teenagers have thoughts of suicide at some time.

    Prevention of Youth Suicide

    Research indicates that the scope for the prevention of youth suicide is broad, should occur within a developmental context and should take into account not just individual characteristics of a young person such as emotional well being but also risk factors which derive from important social environments such as school, the family and the community. There is a need for a continuum of interventions. Some risk factors for youth suicide such as antisocial behaviour, poor family cohesion and parental mental health issues are evident from early childhood. Others including academic failure, school drop-out, depressive symptoms and substance abuse become manifest in later childhood and adolescence. However, some risk factors are even more proximal eg suicidal behaviour and stressful life events. If you think a young person is suicidal, you should inform the person's parents, guardians or school counsellor and they should act immediately to ensure his or her safety. The management of an acutely suicidal person is an emergency.


    • Burns J, Sanci, L. Youth Suicide: A risk factor based approach to prevention. Medical Observer. Continuing Medical Education Program (invited paper, 7 August 1998).
    • Burns JM, Patton GC. Preventive Interventions for Youth Suicide: a risk factor based approach. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 2000: 34:388-407
    • Harrison, J. Moller, J. Bordeauz, S. Youth Suicide and Self-Injury in Australia. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 1997.

    Relevant research projects