Youth victim-survivors of family violence at risk of suicide death

Trigger warning: This story contains content about suicide.

Australian youth who die by suicide after experiencing family violence are being let down by a system ill-equipped to identify and support their safety needs, a new joint report reveals.

Released today, Missing Figures: The Role of Domestic and Family Violence in Youth Suicide, reveals how family violence risks are overlooked in Australian youth suicide reporting.

The research is a collaboration with Griffith University, Monash University, Melbourne City Mission and Berry Street Y-Change.

Monash University’s Gender Family Violence and Prevention Centre director Professor Kate Fitz-Gibbon said the needs of children and young people who have experienced family violence must be better considered in the design and delivery of domestic and family violence service responses.

“If we want to prevent young deaths by suicide following family violence, leaders developing the first five-year Action Plan for Australia’s National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children must ensure the safety and service needs of young victim-survivors are better included,” co-author Professor Fitz-Gibbon said.

Thirty-eight per cent of the deaths among people, aged 15 to 24, are by suicide in Australia. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, suicide was the leading cause of death among young Australians between 2018 to 2020.

The report explores the association between growing up with family violence and youth suicide. It highlights the need to build better understandings and to ensure these deaths of young people are accounted for in Australia’s commitment to end domestic, family and sexual violence.

The report finds that young victim-survivors of family violence who seek help alone are at greater risk of suicide ideation and death by suicide, and yet there are currently no national or state-wide specialist responses in Australia to support them.

Griffith University lead author Professor Silke Meyer said a specialised service system for victim survivors aged 12 to 24 is needed to support our youth, and potentially save lives.

“We need evidence-based policy reform, and more information sharing between services including coroners to ensure histories of childhood trauma aren’t missed and their role in later life outcomes are recognised,” Professor Meyer said.

Melbourne City Mission Head of Policy, Advocacy and Government Relations Shorna Moore said the impacts of family violence on children and young people are being overlooked through responses designed to address adult intimate partner violence.

“This failure to support young victim-survivors and link young deaths by suicide with the family violence they endured has fatal consequences and keeps the problem hidden,” the co-author said.

Among the eight recommendations, is the need for reforms to recognise the role of domestic and family violence and other child abuse in youth suicide to avoid childhood trauma being masked at the time of suicide, suicide attempts or suicidical ideation.

It recommended establishing a trauma-informed service system which meets the protective and recovery needs of youth affected by domestic and family violence to prevent suicides.

The report examined both Australian and international evidence on the association between growing up with experiences of violence in the home and youth suicide, child maltreatment and youth suicide, the role of the child protection system, and the impact of other events.

To access support, information and counselling, please contact: 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732, 13 YARN on 13 92 76, Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800, headspace on 1800 650 890, ReachOut via, Life in Mind via, Head to Health via, SANE via or MensLine on 1300 789 978, Rainbow Door on 1800 729 367, or InTouch on 1800 755 988.