More than 200 LGBTQ+ Victorians have died by suicide in the past decade, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis by the state’s coroner.
In a report to be released on Friday, the coroner’s court of Victoria identified 208 deaths by suicide – recorded between 2012 and 2021 – of people who are LGBTQ+.
It is the first time the coroner, Judge John Cain, has made data on LGBTQ+ suicides publicly available and he noted it is likely to “represent an undercount”, given it relied on the identity of the deceased being reported to the court or police.
It includes 23 suicide deaths in 2021, the highest figure in six years, which could be linked to the Covid-19 pandemic or a result of greater reporting.
“LGBTIQ+ people are at higher risk of suicidal behaviours than the general population in Australia, and this risk may have been amplified during the coronavirus pandemic, which is suspected to have a disproportionate impact on the mental health and wellbeing of LGBTIQ+ people,” the report states.
Overall, young people were overrepresented in the data, with people aged 18 to 34 making up half of all recorded suicide deaths.
The report states there were several challenges in capturing accurate data on LGBTQ+ suicides, including that the deceased’s family and friends may not be aware or accepting of their identity, while others may not disclose out of a desire to protect the privacy of their loved one.
This is particularly relevant with older people, who are less likely to be open about their sexuality due to generational differences and experiences of discrimination.
Police may also omit the information because they deem it not to be relevant. Negative historical interactions between the LGBTQ+ community and the police could also play a role in underreporting, the report said.
Anna Bernasochi, suicide prevention manager at Switchboard Victoria, said the release of the data – a recommendation of the royal commission into mental health – was the first step in improving the understanding of suicides in LGBTIQ+ communities.
“Until we actually make our lives visible, it’s very difficult to advocate for the services and suicide prevention initiatives that we need to keep our communities safe,” Bernasochi said.
“People have been working towards getting this data collected for 30 years … which is why this is such a significant moment.”
Cain said the coroner’s court would continue to make the data available.
The minister for equality, Harriet Shing, who is also the Victorian parliament’s first openly lesbian MP, said it was important not to lose sight that every figure in the report represented a person.
“They’re the empty chairs at dining tables, people who are missing from our lives and our workplaces, they’re friends who we’ve lost,” she said.
Shing said people who identify as LGBTQ+ are likely to face family rejection, homelessness, harassment and violence – factors which make them more likely to experience mental illness, self-harm and suicide.
“This is not because of who we are. It’s because of the fact that while there is a lot of love, support and care within the circles of our friends or workmates or families, there is still an awful lot of vilification and stigma,” she said.
“When we look at the public debates on the rights of trans folk to play sport or access education, when we look at the scapegoating of LGBTQI+ people in the interests of a party, political narrative, [or] the marriage equality postal survey, they affect people, they create trauma and they embed a sense of being ‘other’.”
Shing this week launched a new suicide prevention and “postvention” hub, developed with Switchboard Victoria, to provide support for LGBTIQ+ Victorians and their loved ones.
• In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14.Rainbow Door Victoria, 1800 729 367, www.rainbowdoor.org.au