New data highlights leading causes of death in Australia

It may not be something we like to think about but new government data reveals what our leading causes of death are.

For people over 45 years it remains chronic disease, but suicide is the biggest killer of Australians aged between 15 and 44.

Lifeline says the stigma around suicide remains the biggest challenge for support services.

Sarah Sedghi reports.

SARAH SEDGHI: The most revealing statistic in this survey is the one that shows suicide has now overtaken road accidents as the leading cause of death for young Australians.

The annual survey looks at the leading causes of death in Australia and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s Louise York says many disparities remain.

LOUISE YORK: For suicide and for causes of death overall, death rates are higher for men compared to women and for Indigenous people compared to non-Indigenous people and also those living in more remote areas or in areas with more socio-economic disadvantage. So those inequalities, they have existed for a long time and they are still present in Australia.

SARAH SEDGHI: The information is based on 2012 to 2013 data and shows life expectancy generally across the population remains high.

Australian men have made an improvement – up from six to three in the rankings for life expectancy in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries.

This is partly because of improvements in health and safety, for instance health problems from smoking have been reduced.

Chronic disease including heart conditions are the biggest killer of Australians aged over 45.

But Louise York says the rates of suicide among those aged between15 to 44 remain a stubborn problem.

LOUISE YORK: The pattern has been fairly similar for young people over recent years, although suicide has over taken land transport accidents in one of the younger age groups which is what has made suicide so much the leading cause in that big age group of 15 to 44.

SARAH SEDGHI: Jane Hayden is the chief executive of Lifeline, a charity which provides crisis support and suicide prevention services.

And when asked why suicide rates remain stubbornly high, she says stigma is the biggest obstacle.

JANE HAYDEN: They’re tragic numbers, these suicide statistics in Australian and they’ve been stubbornly high over last decade and we think that there’s a lot of stigma associated with suicide, people find it hard to talk about and so that then consequently makes it hard to raise this up as a public health issue.

SARAH SEDGHI: Lifeline is part of a coalition aiming to halve the national suicide rate in the next decade.

JANE HAYDEN: We’ve all worked together and contributed to tool kits that communities can use where communities are impacted by suicide, conversations and that can be had in communities and how we can all individually try to address this issue so getting those resources there.

SARAH SEDGHI: The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s statistics are aimed at informing policy.

Jane Hayden says she hopes the latest figures will show how important it is to tackle stigma and fund initiatives for suicide prevention.

JANE HAYDEN: When there are on average seven people a day dying by suicide, the numbers of people in the community that are impacted by this means that there is a willingness to start to donate to this cause but the key issue still remains the stigma around it, that people find it very uncomfortable, people are worried about saying the wrong thing and this makes it a difficult issue to tackle.

But we need to, for everyone in Australia, to realise what a big issue this is when its running at double the road toll and that we all need to be talking about this and raising it with governments and with our workplaces and within the community to get this on the agenda.

KIM LANDERS: Jane Hayden, chief executive of Lifeline ending Sarah Sedghi’s report.

And if you need help, or you know someone who does, you can call Lifeline 24 hours a day on 13 11 14.

Leading causes of death aged under 1:

Peri-natal and congenital conditions.

Leading causes of death among 1-14:

Land transport accidents

Leading causes of death among 15-44:


Leading causes of death among over 45:

Chronic disease, coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, cancers, dementia and Alzheimer disease and respiratory conditions.

Source: The World Today (ABC Radio)