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Suicide rate may be underestimated -

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EDMOND ROY: The Australian Bureau of Statistics has admitted that its method of calculating the
nation's suicide rate is flawed and is being revised.

Official figures show that about 1800 Australians take their own lives each year but experts say
the real figure is closer to 2,700.

They're calling on the Government to invest more in suicide prevention.

Meredith Griffiths reports.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Australia's official suicide rate is 1881 based on figures from 2007. But the
Bureau of Statistics is reviewing that after several people raised concerns.

Tara Pritchard is the Bureau's Director of Health and Vital Statistics.

TARA PRITCHARD: We now have additional training for our coders and also revised and clear
instructions on how to code a suicide.

And then the last issue was the fact that due to the need to get data out within a timely manner we
in the past have not revised figures for our cause of death data when a coroner's case may still
have been open on the national coroners' information system and therefore the full information
about that death wasn't available to us. We've now changed that process.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: The bureau will publish the revised figures for 2007 next March.

John Mendoza from the University of Sydney's Medical School expects them to be much higher. He says
the real suicide rate is about 2,700.

JOHN MENDOZA: That's from my work with colleagues but it's also confirmed in the AIHW (Australian
Institute of Health and Welfare) report about three weeks ago where the National Injury
Surveillance Unit, through them there was indication, clear indication that the suicide rate,
suicide numbers have been significantly under-reported

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: He says one of the reasons for that is that a lack of resources for coroners
means the ABS has been receiving incomplete information.

JOHN MENDOZA: There may also be factors associated with the increase in the number of open findings
that have been reported by coroners where it's pretty obvious that any analysis of the report
indicates that it is death by suicide. These are strangulations and poisonings and so on and yet
many of them have been recorded an open finding.

Now why that's happening, it could be due to pressures from family or community. There is still a
very significant stigma associated with suicide.

So I think we need to investigate that further and certainly improve the resources and reporting
protocols for coronial inquiries in this area across the nation.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: John Mendoza who is also the chair of the National Advisory Council on Mental
Health says what this all mean is that the rate of suicide in Australia has basically stayed steady
since the 1990s.

He says the Federal Government needs to invest more money into suicide prevention and set a clearer
strategy.

The counselling service Lifeline has been saying for some time that suicide is under-reported in
Australia. General Manager Alan Woodward has welcomed the review by the Bureau of Statistics.

ALAN WOODWARD: The number of deaths by suicide in Australia is something that we would urge
governments and the community to always be looking at because any death by suicide you know is
preventable and is a tragedy.

We certainly would caution against complacency coming into either government policy making or the
activities in the community.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: The chair of Suicide Prevention Australia Dr Michael Dudley says the Federal
Government has taken the issue seriously.

MICHAEL DUDLEY: There is a need for a systemic coordinated program to address this and it has been
you know noted that this needs to happen and key bodies and players have been brought together to
actually kind of try to address this question of inaccuracies in Australian suicide data and
progress some kind of solution to it.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: He believes the suicide rate has been falling since 1997 but he says the figure
of 2,700 deaths a year is unfortunately all too plausible.

EDMOND ROY: That report from Meredith Griffiths. And Lifeline's 24-hour counselling number is 13 11
14. That's 13 11 14.