Suicidal thoughts and behaviours among Australian adults: findings from the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing

Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2009 Jul;43(7):635-43. doi: 10.1080/00048670902970874.


Objectives: To provide an overview of the lifetime and 12 month prevalence of suicidal ideation, suicide plans and suicide attempts for Australian adults as a whole and for particular sociodemographic and clinical population subgroups, and to explore the health service use of people with suicidality.

Method: Data came from the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (2007 NSMHWB), a nationally, representative household survey of 8841 individuals aged 16-85 years.

Results: A total of 13.3% of respondents had suicidal ideation during their lifetime, 4.0% had made a suicide plan and 3.2% had made a suicide attempt. The equivalent 12 month prevalence rates were 2.3%, 0.6% and 0.4%, for ideation, plans and attempts, respectively. In general, suicidality in the previous 12 months tended to be relatively more common in women, younger people, those outside the labour force, and those with mental disorders; and less common in those who were married or in de facto relationships, and those with moderate levels of education. A number of the differences in prevalence rates between sociodemographic and clinical subgroups did not reach statistical significance due to data availability constraints and the conservative tests of significance that were used by necessity. These patterns warrant further exploration. Service use for mental health problems was higher among people with suicidality than it was among the general population, but significant numbers of those experiencing suicidality did not receive treatment.

Conclusions: Suicidal thoughts and behaviours are not uncommon among the Australian adult population. These thoughts and behaviours are not only predictive of subsequent fatal suicidal acts, but are significant public health problems in their own right. They are associated with high levels of burden at an individual and societal level. Further analysis is required to assess the effectiveness of the national policy frameworks in reducing the spectrum of suicidal thoughts and behaviours.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Cost of Illness
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Male
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Social Support
  • Suicide, Attempted / prevention & control*
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology
  • Suicide, Attempted / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult