Changes in the inequality of mental health: suicide in Australia, 1907–2003 Academic Article uri icon


  • AbstractRising suicide rates have been identified as a social problem in several Western countries. The application of a Welfare Economics argument justifies a role for policy that reduces the welfare impact of suicide, whereas the measurement of that impact can inform policy making. Two dimensions of the concept can be measured: the social loss from suicide, and the inequality in the distribution of that loss. In this study, an alternative measure of suicide to the conventional suicide headcount,viz.the potential years of life lost (PYLL), is employed. The PYLL measure is a proxy measure of the social impact of suicide, and involves the concept of ‘premature’ loss of life. The PYLL also lends itself to inequality measurement. We apply the approach to inequality measurement of health phenomena that was pioneered in the 1980s by Jacques Silber and Julian Le Grand, in a literature now described as measuring health inequalityper se. The empirical part of the paper statistically estimates equations on Australian suicide data for the period 1907–2003 and determines the trends in the social loss from suicide and the inequality of its age distribution. Some illustrative examples assist in interpreting the welfare impact of suicide measured both ways, by the headcount rate and the PYLL rate.

publication date

  • January 2011