No one is immune from suicide. However, there are groups in the Australian community that have been identified as having a higher risk of suicide compared to the general population: males, young people, individuals of indigenous descent, members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex (GLBTI) communities and individuals living in rural and remote communities (Dept. of Health, Victoria, 1997; Mental Health Division 2009; Mendoza & Rosenberg, 2010).
Suicide rates are considerably higher for males than females, and have had a much higher rate of suicide for many decades. In 2011, males accounted for 76% of suicide deaths (ABS, 2013). Various reasons have been suggested to account for the higher rate of suicide in men, including a higher likelihood to choose more lethal methods, a tendency not to display help-seeking behaviours (particularly in accessing professional support services) and feeling that seeking help is a sign of weakness or failure (LIFE, 2007).
Suicide is a leading cause of death among young people. The latest ABS statistics report that suicide accounted for 23.4% of deaths (a total of 115 deaths) among 15-19 year olds and 27% of deaths (206 deaths) among 20-24 year olds in 2011 (ABS, 2013). Suicide is much more common among young males than young females, with suicide accounting for 27.4% (231 deaths) of male deaths and 23.0% (90 deaths) of female deaths aged between 15-24 years (ABS, 2013). Additionally, there were 7907 hospital admissions for suicide attempts and intentional self-harm for people under the age of 24 years between 2009 and 2010 (Tovell, McKenna, Bradley & Pointer, 2012).
The rate of suicide for individuals of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent is 2.5 times higher for males and 3.4 times higher for females in comparison to the non-Indigenous Australian population (ABS, 2012). Between 2001 and 2010 there were 996 suicide deaths reported of Indigenous individuals; that is one in every 24 Indigenous peoples dying by suicide (ABS, 2012). Indigenous youth are at an even high risk of suicide and suicidal behaviour than their non-Indigenous peers (Hunter & Milroy, 2006; Hunter, Reser, Baird & Reser, 2001). For young Indigenous individuals aged between 15-19 years, the suicide rate is 4.4 times higher for males and 5.9 times higher for females than their non-Indigenous peers (ABS & Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2008).
A large number of Indigenous Australians live in rural and isolated communities and have unique cultural practices. There is also a higher prevalence of generational substance abuse problems, all of which elevate the risk of suicide. Thus, the co-morbidity of risk factors has a significant influence on suicide in this population. Additionally there is very limited access to professional support, particularly support specifically targeting the cultural needs (LIFE, 2007).
Suicide in the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and other sexuality, sex and gender diverse (LGBTI) community is significantly higher than among non-LGBTI populations (Suicide Prevention Australia, SPA, 2009). Further, the level of suicidal ideation and attempts is also significantly higher in this population. The heightened risk of suicide for GLBTI young people is not a consequence of their sexual identity. GLBTI young people often experience a range of negative social experiences (or anticipated experiences) because of their sexual identity. They face social isolation, rejection by friends and family, bullying and harassment, threats and acts of violence, and verbal abuse (Bagley & Tremblay 2000; SPA, 2009). Along with poor levels of support specific for GLBTI individuals, these experiences increase their vulnerability to suicide.
Rural and Remote
The rate of suicide is 33% higher in rural areas compared to major Australian cities, and is 189% higher in very remote areas (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, AIHW, 2010). Suicide rates are 3 times higher for young people (15-24 years) living in rural and remote areas compared to young people living in major cities, particularly for young males (AIHW, 2008; AIHW, 2007a). Individuals living in rural and remote areas face unique challenges which likely contribute to higher rates of suicide. These include social isolation, reduced access to support services, economic and financial hardship and easier access to lethal means (e.g. firearms) (Aisbett et. al., 2007; LIFE, 2007). There is also a culture of self-reliance in rural areas, which can discourage individuals from seeking help (AIHW, 2010).