Why are Queensland teens taking their own lives in greater numbers than ever?

The Queensland Family and Child Commission will monitor a worrying increase in the suicide rates among 15-17 year-olds, for whom it is already the biggest killer.

Mar 18, 2021, updated Mar 18, 2021
Queensland Family and Child Commission principal commissioner Cheryl Vardon is concerned suicide is on the increase among young people. (AAP Image/Samantha Manchee)

Queensland Family and Child Commission principal commissioner Cheryl Vardon is concerned suicide is on the increase among young people. (AAP Image/Samantha Manchee)

The commission examines all child deaths in Queensland in the hope of being able to make recommendations to stakeholders that might save other young people.

In a report tabled in State Parliament, Principal Commissioner Cheryl Vardon said there had been a welcome reduction in child deaths over time, falling by an average of three per cent per annum between 2004 and 2019. Transport-related deaths fell by an average of eight per cent per annum, however much of the overall reduction was due to young people being in better health.

“Significant reductions were also evident in the rate of death from natural causes, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) as well as most external causes,” Vardon said.

“This review did, however, identify a concerning increase (two per cent per annum) in the rate of death from suicide, particularly for young people aged 15–17 years. This is an area I will continue to monitor closely. I will seek to partner with suicide prevention experts to determine how the valuable data held by the QFCC can contribute to suicide research and prevention efforts.”

Of the 378 child deaths recorded by the QFCC in 2019-20, two thirds were the result of natural causes, however there were still 75 deaths “from which there are modifiable risk factors”. Of the 53 children known to the Department of Child Safety at the time of their death, nine were victims of fatal assault and neglect and another eight died by suicide.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for 15-17 year-olds, and the second leading cause of death for 10-14 year-olds. Of the 20 suicides overall, there were nine linked to alleged childhood abuse, 14 possibly associated with precipitating events (such as a recent traumatic incident), while 13 victims had a history of alcohol, drug or substance abuse.

Suicide can also influence similar behaviours in close networks. Contagion, as it is known, was identified as a potential factor in six deaths.

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“At the time of reporting, there was no evidence of an increase in youth suicide deaths as a direct or indirect result of COVID-19,” the report states.

“The incidence of stressors commonly reported in youth suicide data, such as mental health, transitions, social isolation, domestic violence, family stress and academic achievement-related stress are likely to be heightened by the economic and social changes that have occurred over the preceding months.”

While transport, drowning and unexplained deaths were more common in areas of greater disadvantage, there was less variation by socio-economic status for suicide.

The report also included Queensland Ambulance Service data on 7,528 callouts to incidents of self-harm and suicidal behaviour.

-For help, call Lifeline (13 11 14), the Kid’s Helpline (1800 55 1800), your GP clinic or, in an emergency, Triple-0.

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