Suicide rates among elderly may be skewed

Accurate estimates of the Indigenous suicide rate, particularly in older groups, could be higher than previously thought and impeded by records that don’t list a person’s ethnicity, according to a report in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

The new report by researchers at the University of Melbourne said the National Coronial Information System showed the Indigenous suicide rate for people aged 15-44 years was 31.5 per 100,000 compared to 11.1 per 100,000 for non-Indigenous people.

But there was no, or minimal difference, in suicide rates for people aged over 45 years.

The researchers said data, which excluded suicide deaths where a person’s Indigenous status was not known, could be masking the true suicide rate.

“Between 2000 and 2013, 4896 of the total 32,032 suicide deaths in Australia were classified as unknown with respect to Indigenous status and 1478 were classified as Indigenous,” the report said.

“The proportion of deaths classified as unknown was substantially lower in states and territories with higher proportions of Indigenous Australians in the population, such as the Northern Territory, Western Australia and to some extent Queensland.

“The identification of a person as being Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander is problematic within many health datasets, and this is amplified in coronial datasets, given there is no possibility for self-identification of the deceased person.

“Nonetheless, Indigenous identification has improved in many jurisdictions over the past few decades with greater efforts being made to capture Indigenous status in birth registrations.

“However many Indigenous Australians, particularly middle-aged and older-aged Indigenous Australians, do not have their Indigenous status captured in official records.

“Consequently, we reason that the high number of suicide deceased persons whose Indigenous identification is classified as unknown could be impeding accurate estimates of the Indigenous suicide rate, particularly in those older groups where there are higher proportions of unknowns.”


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