About suicide

Suicide risk factors

Risk factors may be thought of as leading to or being associated with suicide; that is, people "possessing" the risk factor are at greater potential for suicidal behaviour. Risk factors may vary between different age, cultural and social groups.

Biopsychosocial Risk Factors

  • Mental disorders, particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and certain personality disorders
  • Alcohol and other substance use disorders
  • Hopelessness
  • Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies
  • History of trauma or abuse
  • Some major physical illnesses
  • Previous suicide attempt
  • Family history of suicide

Environmental Risk Factors

  • Job or financial loss
  • Relational or social loss
  • Easy access to lethal means
  • Local clusters of suicide that have a contagious influence

Social-cultural Risk Factors

  • Lack of social support and sense of isolation
  • Stigma associated with help-seeking behaviour
  • Barriers to accessing health care, especially mental health and substance abuse treatment
  • Certain cultural and religious beliefs (for instance, the belief that suicide is a noble resolution of a personal dilemma)
  • Exposure to, including through the media, and influence of others who have died by suicide

Suicide warning signs

Warning signs indicate a need for further assistance, support and assessment.

Some examples of warning signs are:

  • Lack of interest/pleasure, boredom, apathy
  • Self destructive behaviours
  • Disturbance of sleep
  • Preoccupation with death and / or suicide
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Suicidal ideation or communications (e.g. 'I may as well end it all?')
  • Giving away personal belongings
  • Disconnecting from significant others or objects
  • Change in emotional response/behaviour (e.g.; suddenly happy, sociable etc.)

Certain circumstances or events may be closely or directly associated with suicide warning signs and suicidality such as:

  • Seasons, holidays or events
  • Bad news (e.g. phone call, letter, etc.)

Suicide protective behaviours

There are no clear universal protective factors that may decrease the likelihood of a person taking their life. Protective factors are dependent on the individual at one point in time. However, some known factors may include:

  • being connected or belonging to a family, school or other community, such as a sporting or recreation group;
  • having at least one significant person to relate to and bond with (whether that is a family member, a friend or other person);
  • having personal coping skills and resilience to deal with difficult situations;
  • a sense of meaning, spiritual faith or belief that suicide is wrong;
  • economic security, particularly in older people;
  • good physical as well as mental health;
  • early detection and treatment for mental illness and emotional problems;
  • restricted access to means, such as firearms, prescription medications and certain geographical locations.

Why are rural rates so high?

Possible factors contributing to higher rates in rural areas include isolation, less access to health services, reduced anonymity when seeking assistance, rural poverty, increased risk taking behaviour and ready access to lethal means (eg firearms). It has also been suggested that a culture of self reliance, that does not encourage help-seeking behaviour, may be one of the most important contributing factors to suicide in rural areas.

What factors are associated with Aboriginal and Torres Strait suicide rates?

Many local researchers have identified that Aboriginal suicide is different, yet it is under resourced, under researched and under valued. Prior to the 1960's Aboriginal suicide was considered a rarity. Beyond the 1960's, rates of suicide in the Aboriginal population have been two to three times higher than national figures. From the 1980's Aboriginal suicide has been considered an "endemic".

Many mainstream risk factors for suicide do not apply to the Aboriginal population. The historical, social and economic issues associated with an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background has been implicated as major factors in suicide in these communities. Tatz (1993) has proposed that there are 8 factors that are involved in Aboriginal suicide:

  • The persistent cycle of grief due to the high number of deaths within many communities, and exposure to completed suicides;
  • Feelings and experiences of exclusion and alienation;
  • A lack of publicly recognised role models and mentors outside of the sporting realm;
  • Lack of meaningful support networks within the community;
  • Sexual Assault;
  • Substance misuse;
  • Conflict and ill will between community groups;
  • Lack of a sense of purpose in life and feelings of emptiness

Why does suicide-related stigma still exist?

The current perception of suicide is a byproduct of history. Suicide, in the past has been associated with martyrdom, moral corruption, insanity and criminal activities to name but a few. What has complicated society's views on suicide throughout the ages is the conflicting and ever changing information from major influences such as religion, politics, medicine and science. However, with increased knowledge, suicide is now considered to be due to an interplay of factors in one's internal and external world. Yet often people's views remain unchallenged until they are engaged in education regarding the issue. This is one of the endeavours of the Connected Communities Project.

What are the main areas of suicide prevention?

  • Prevention is health protection for the whole population. Prevention consists of strategies to improve the conditions that lead to suicide. An example includes creating opportunities for social connection to prevent isolation and risks associated with being isolated.

  • Intervention involves early detection and prompt intervention for individual and populations. An example includes a health professional completing suicide risk screening for people presenting with depression.

  • Postvention is "prevention for the next generation" (Shneidman, 1972). It involves addressing suicide prevention and traumatic stress. An example includes providing support groups for those who have lost a loved one to suicide.