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Number of deaths by suicide rose in Victoria last year, Coroners Court of Victoria data shows

Victoria's state coroner has documented a "troubling" increase in the number of deaths by suicide last year — the highest figure since official records began in 2000.

There was a 9 per cent increase in the number of suicides in 2022 compared to 2021, the Coroners Court Monthly Suicide Data Report – December 2022 found.

The report notes variation in monthly and annual frequencies of suicide is not unusual and usually the result of random factors.

"The data therefore should be interpreted cautiously, with great care taken in drawing conclusions about any apparent increase or decrease that is observed," the report reads.

State Coroner John Cain said the trend was "very concerning".

"We didn't see an increase over the pandemic, but what we saw in the last part of last year was a significant increase," he told ABC Radio Melbourne.

"It's never one thing, it's always multi-factorial. It's social isolation, it's mental health, substance abuse, interactions with the legal system, financial pressures.

"There's a mixture of things [and] we'll try and unpack which of those factors were more dominant."

The state coroner said the number of suicides in January this year was also significantly higher than in the same period last year. 

"This seems to indicate that the trend we saw in the last four months last year is continuing," he said.

"It's a significant increase."

Biggest increase in Victorians aged 65 and older

There had been a consistent number of deaths by suicide over the past five years, with an average of about 58 suicides per month.

From January to July 2022, that rate remained stable. However, it jumped to about 65 or more per month in the second half of the year.

That drove the number of deaths by suicide to 756 in 2022, up from 693 a year earlier.

The most substantial increase in the last year was in people aged 65 years and older — a 32 per cent increase on the previous year.

There was a 21 per cent increase in people aged 45 to 54.

Men continue to be over-represented in the figures, with 560 male and 196 female suicide deaths in 2022.

There was an 8 per cent increase among men and a 12 per cent increase among women last year.

The court said it considered the higher numbers at the end of the year might signal an emerging trend.

The Victorian mental health royal commission found in 2021 that the state system had "catastrophically failed to live up to expectations" and needed to be rebuilt.

The government vowed to implement all 65 of the commissioners' recommendation — a process which has begun but is expected to take years.

"Access to support is a vital part of suicide prevention. I welcome the improvements that have been made following the Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System and the strengthening of supports in Victoria as the recommendations continue to be implemented," Judge Cain said.

"Suicide is complex and requires a multifaceted approach to minimise harm – sharing court data helps to support this work across government, the prevention sector and the community."

All suspected suicides in Victoria are referred to the Coroners Court for investigation.

Deaths consistent with suicide are recorded on the Victorian Suicide Registrar, which is regularly reviewed and updated.

The court said coroners observed that social isolation, mental health issues, substance abuse, familial conflict and financial pressures were common stressors in cases of suicide.

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