What’s killing more Aussies than COVID-19 right now


Exclusive: The true death toll from COVID-19 may be 17 times higher than from the virus alone due to excess deaths from other causes during the pandemic with people avoiding doctors and hospitals.

Sick patients have been dodging treatment due to fear of entering health facilities and the deaths are believed to be the result of elective surgery bans, people refusing to visit doctors and hospitals or have medical tests during the pandemic.

Interestingly, our biggest killers - heart disease and strokes - fell but there were spikes in deaths from respiratory illness including pneumonia and flu, asthma, and emphysema (up by 226).

It might be that some of these deaths were COVID related but the patient was never tested for the virus.

"There may well be some," said Australian National University epidemiologist Professor Peter Collignon.


"But I think it's very unlikely that those deaths are predominantly due to COVID, if they were due to COVID that means we would have had a lot more clinical disease," he told News Corp.

"So, yes, it's possible some of those cases were due to COVID but I think it's much more likely that there may have been a delay in getting medical therapy," he said.

Cancer deaths increased by 402, deaths from diabetes rose by 88 and dementia deaths increased by 220 compared to the five-year average.

By the end of April this year 91 people had died from COVID-19 but in the same period there were 1572 excess deaths from other causes.

On average 42,507 people die every year between January 1 and April 28 but this year there were 1572 more deaths than on average, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found.

Queensland suffered the highest number of excess deaths with extra deaths up by 7.11 per cent above average.

There are fears economic stress from COVID-19 lockdowns will lead to a rise in suicide.
There are fears economic stress from COVID-19 lockdowns will lead to a rise in suicide.

South Australia had the next highest 5.62 per cent more deaths than on average, in NSW the number of deaths was 4.11 per cent above average and in Victoria deaths were up by 2.67 per cent compared to the average.

There are grave fears economic distress, depression and loneliness caused by COVID-19 could see a spike in suicides but to date there is no evidence this has occurred.

Modelling by the The Brain and Mind Centre at Sydney University predicts the COVID-19 the crisis could cause up between 750 and 1500 additional suicides.

However, the Victorian Coroners Court suicide registry and it found "to date, there has been no increase in the frequency of suspected suicides in Victoria during the coronavirus pandemic".

However, calls to Lifeline are up by 25 per cent and Beyond Blue said more than 500,000 people have accessed Beyond Blue's Coronavirus Mental wellbeing service.

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services has recorded a 33 per cent rise in children presenting to hospital with self-harm injuries over the past six weeks when compared to the same period last year.

Across all ages self-harm presentations increased by 9.3 per cent and National Mental Health Commissioner Christine Morgan there needed to be more community-based suicide prevention services.

Mates in construction: Scott Grover, Kevin Warhurst, Ryan O’Sullivan, Kaani Matthews on the new Mitsubishi building site at Adelaide Airport. Picture: Tricia Watkinson
Mates in construction: Scott Grover, Kevin Warhurst, Ryan O’Sullivan, Kaani Matthews on the new Mitsubishi building site at Adelaide Airport. Picture: Tricia Watkinson

In the construction industry every second day an Australian worker takes their own life but a groundbreaking suicide prevention service is helping stop the terrible toll.

Mates In Construction has been responsible for an eight per cent decline in suicides among people working in the construction industry.

The program which began 13 years ago trains people on how to keep an eye on workmates under pressure.

More than nine in 10 construction workers under pressure will never access a mental help service that's why the people they work with are more likely to be able to support them, Mates in Construction CEO Chris Lockwood said.

"Some of the best people to actually help when things aren't going well are those people we work with because they'll know where you're at," he said.

In its first five years, the program was responsible for an eight per cent reduction in the rates of suicide in the industry.

"It doesn't rely on sort of formal management structures or going through systems that people might not have trust in, you've got peers in the workplace, you can trust them and you are more likely to have an honest conversation, and then be connected not to help," Mr Lockwood said.



Suicide Prevention Australia CEO Nieves Murray said any increase in suicides caused by COVID-19 won't be immediate.

"For example in Christchurch (after the earthquake) it was something like three years before we started to see the impact on people in a mental health capacity," she said.

"Communities rally at a time of a huge crisis, its when those supports start to wane that we see people experiencing increased distress."

Financial distress is a key driver of suicide and Financial Counselling Australia's executive director Fiona Guthrie said JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments had so far meant calls to the national debt helpline had been steady.

However, when these payments reduced on October "there's a day of reckoning coming."


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Originally published as What's killing more Aussies than COVID-19 right now