The complex factors that heighten the risk of suicide

The evidence shows that the high suicide rates experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, are due to multiple, complex and interrelated factors that heighten the risk for suicidal behaviours and self-harm. These can include the cumulative impact of:

  • ongoing exposure to socio-economic disadvantage and multiple psychological stressors
  • grief from the premature deaths of family, community members and friends, including suicide
  • violence and inter-personal conflict
  • transgenerational trauma, grief and loss associated with the ongoing impact of dislocation and the effects of forced removal of children and mistreatment
  • pervasive racism and discrimination at individual, institutional and system levels
  • a loss of a sense of purpose and meaning in life
  • poor health, including a number of co-morbidities and severely compromised mental health and emotional wellbeing
  • an ‘access’ gap to mental health services 

These factors are set against a backdrop of high rates of poverty, homelessness, low socioeconomic status and reduced employment prospects, limited access to culturally appropriate services, poor overall health and wellbeing, high rates of incarceration, domestic violence or abuse, and harmful alcohol and other drug use. 

Addressing social determinants of suicide

Addressing the social determinants of suicide requires programs and services that support a multi-level approach to address dispossession, racism and the broader determinants of health, and the array of inequalities that impact on the physical and mental health and social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Also, programs need to be culturally appropriate, and need to have community engagement and ownership from the outset.