Exploring Sociodemographic Correlates of Suicide Stigma in Australia: Baseline Cross-Sectional Survey Findings from the Life-Span Suicide Prevention Trial Studies
By Lisa N. Sharwood, Alison L. Calear, Phillip J. Batterham, Michelle Torok, Lauren McGillivray, Demee Rheinberger, Stephanie Zeritis, Tuguy Esgin and Fiona Shand
Published 31 January 2023
There is no single reason a person attempts or dies by suicide; there are many complex and interwoven factors. A number of sociodemographic factors are known to affect risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviours such as age, sex, sexual identity and preference, and Indigenous status. Stigma surrounding suicide can also have an impact on suicide risk by increasing distress and reducing help-seeking or help-offering behaviour. This study examines sociodemographic factors that correlate with increased suicide stigma.
Research and findings
A total of 5,426 participants completed a baseline cross-sectional survey as part of the LifeSpan suicide prevention trial which took place across four geographic regions in New South Wales during April 2017 to March 2020.
The survey consisted of a series of demographic questions, as well as the ‘Stigma of Suicide Scale' (SOSS) used to assess attitudes towards people who die by suicide. The SOSS consists of three subscales: stigma subscale (assessing suicide stigma), glorification subscale (normalisation of suicide) and isolation subscale (attributing suicide to depression or isolation). Linear regression analyses were used to determine factors associated with suicide stigma.
Self-reported stigma of suicide was reported to be highest among Indigenous peoples, males, heterosexual persons and those living in outer regional or remote areas of NSW. Lower stigma scores were associated with younger age, mental illness, male bisexuality and males who glorified suicide.
Some of the population groups with higher stigmas scores (males, Indigenous peoples and those living in rural and remote areas) are known to have higher rates of suicide. However, stigma scores were comparatively lower for participants identifying as homosexual or bisexual, who have been documented as also having high levels of suicidality.
The findings indicate that suicide stigma differs within and across communities. Some of these population groups (Indigenous peoples, males and those living in regional and remote areas) are those typically known to have higher rates of suicide. Targeted education programs to address suicide stigma in culturally safe and appropriate ways for these population groups could assist in suicide prevention efforts.