Responding to Suicide in Rural Australia

1 April 2010
While research reflects substantial differences between rates of suicide in rural and urban areas, a relative deficit of literature exists in relation to the underpinning social determinants that contribute to elevated suicide risk in rural Australia. One frequently cited contributor is depression. More recently, however, longstanding challenges faced by rural communities have been compounded by the effects of climate change (the full ramifications of which are yet to be determined). This has led to international trade pressures and socio-economic decline; typically resulting in significant social and human costs, such as depopulation, financial indebtedness, the guilt and shame often experienced as a consequence of financial vulnerability, and an increased reliance on alcohol and other substances as a method of escaping difficult life experiences. These factors have been shown to be major precipitators to increased suicide risk among both younger and older, as well as Indigenous and migrant rural Australians. Suicide Prevention Australia recognises that strategies aimed at reducing the rate of suicide and self-harm in rural and remote areas must address these factors as well as others, such as the impact of stigma as a significant inhibiting factor towards help-seeking in rural communities. While this position statement does not purport to resolve all of these complexities, it does aim to draw greater attention to these and other issues, such as the far-reaching impacts of vicarious drought-related trauma and the growing need for improved rural mental health and suicide prevention literacy, training, support, services and resources, in an attempt to provide a firm basis of understanding from which further debate, discussion, and strategic response may ensue. Fundamental to this progress is an improved appreciation of rural Australia as an important contributor to the nation’s social and economic fabric.