World-first monitoring system provides timely data on ambulance attendances for suicide and self-harm

27 Jul 2021

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has released information on the number of ambulance attendances over time for suicide attempts, suicidal ideation, and intentional self-injury.

This media release contains information some readers may find distressing as it refers to data about suicide and self-harm.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has released information on the number of ambulance attendances over time for suicide attempts, suicidal ideation, and intentional self-injury across New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory.

Today’s release, and the establishment of the National Ambulance Surveillance System, form part of the AIHW’s National Suicide and Self-harm Monitoring System to support the national goal of working towards zero suicides.

‘The National Ambulance Surveillance System (NASS) is a world-first public health monitoring system established to provide timely and comprehensive data on ambulance attendances in Australia,’ said Matthew James, AIHW Deputy CEO.

‘While other countries use ambulance data for research, the NASS is the only place that will routinely and systematically code ambulance data for suicide attempts, ideation and self-harm at a national level for surveillance purposes and regular reporting.

‘There is potential for clinical data from ambulance attendances to provide a more complete picture of suicidal and intentional self-harm behaviours in Australia, and to identify opportunities for improved intervention, at a stage when further harm may be prevented.

‘Monitoring of ambulance attendances, alongside the continued broader monitoring of suicide and self-harm in Australia, can support communities, governments and services to better respond to suicide and self-harm.

The NASS is a partnership between Turning Point, Monash University, Eastern Health (Victoria) and jurisdictional ambulance services across Australia.

Across the four jurisdictions currently reporting data, ambulances attended a total of 22,400 incidents involving suicidal behaviours (suicidal ideation or suicide attempt) in March, June, September, and December of 2020. In addition, ambulances in NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT attended nearly 4,400 incidents involving deliberate self-injury without suicidal intent.

Rates of ambulance attendances for suicide attempt and intentional self-injury were higher for females than males. This is consistent with previously reported data which found that rates of hospitalisations for intentional self-harm were higher for females than males.

While the ambulance data shows higher rates of suicide attempts for females than males, the suicide rate for males remains considerably higher than the rate for females.

‘It’s important to remember that behind the numbers in today’s data are real lives and situations of significant distress for the individuals and families involved. For many, this data will be difficult to receive and we remind anyone needing support to please reach out to someone you trust, your GP or the support services available,’ said Christine Morgan, CEO of the National Mental Health Commission.

‘The release of the ambulance data today is an early example of what can be achieved through a whole-of-governments approach to suicide prevention. The collection of this data has required cross jurisdictional coordination and commitment to recognising the contribution our ambulance and paramedic personnel can deliver in helping us gain a more complete picture of suicidal and self-harming behaviours in Australia. This data will be a critical enabler of system reform when used to inform the creation of targeted interventions that reach people where they are experiencing distress, when the support is most needed.

‘With more than 22,000 attendances across four jurisdictions in four months in 2020, the clinical data from ambulance attendances included in this release highlights the vital role our frontline responders play in suicide prevention through their daily response to distress and their professional ability to save lives. We are indebted to them.’

Today’s update includes information on deaths by suicide from the National Mortality Database, including updated information on deaths by suicide at local areas.

Published data from the suicide registers in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland does not show an increase in suspected suicide deaths in 2020, or since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The Suicide and Self-harm Monitoring System will continue to develop and expand as part of the Australian Government’s commitment to mental health and suicide prevention through the 2021–22 Budget, with additional funding of $4.2 million per year from 2022­–23 to 2024–25 as part of the $2.3 billion overall investment in mental health and suicide prevention in Australia.

Also released today in the AIHW’s Mental health services in Australia report is the new Consumer outcomes in mental health care, using data from the National Outcomes and Casemix Collection. This is the first time the AIHW has included information on clinical outcomes for people receiving mental health care in public sector specialised mental health services. Data shows that in 2018–19, for people aged 18–64, 74% of care episodes involving discharge from inpatient care showed improvement based on clinician ratings.

Critical to achieving the objectives of The National Suicide and Self-harm Monitoring System website is advocating the use of the Mindframe guidelines when reporting on statistics on the monitoring of suicide and self-harm.

National Crisis Services:

Lifeline 13 11 14

A full list of crisis support services is available on the AIHW’s website

Media enquiries: Elise Guy, AIHW: Mob. 0468 525 418
Matthew Kelly, National Mental Health Commission: 0439 833 053, [email protected]

For embargoed media copies of the report:[email protected]