New research finds suicide risk increases for Australians living further from cities

Posted 26th August 2021 in General

A new study has found a person's risk of suicide in Australia increases the further they live from a city, which may be attributable to less diagnosis and treatment of mental ill-health in remote areas.

The University of Newcastle’s Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health research found the rate of intentional self-harm deaths by non-Indigenous Australians within rural communities (12.7 deaths per 100,000 persons) was 11 per cent higher than the national rate, and increased with remoteness.

Researchers studied 3,163 cases of intentional self-harm deaths in rural New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania from 2010 to 2015, from the National Coronial Information System (NCIS).

The study concluded the higher suicide rate may be attributable to less diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders in rural areas, particularly in men.

The Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health’s Director, Professor David Perkins, explained that fewer mental health specialists, as well as socio-demographic factors in remote areas, may contribute to lower mental health diagnoses and treatment.

"One group [at risk] is people in manual trade-type occupations — labourers, drivers — people perhaps who have fewer opportunities than people who have had a longer time in education,” he said.

Other groups at risk, according to Professor Perkins, are young people aged 15 to 24, and older people aged 75 to 84.

“The older people ... are a group which are perhaps experiencing major life changes like the loss of a partner, the inability to continue to work on the farm perhaps, or to run their own business."

Kate Arndell from the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP) said it can be tough for people in rural Australia to reach out for help.

"It's really, really crucial that people take a deep breath and ask the question 'are you OK?'."

Ms Arndell advises other key warning signs of suicide to watch out for in rural communities include:

  • withdrawing from usual activities, such as work or hobbies,
  • thinking or speaking about suicide or death or dying, or speaking about hopelessness or worthlessness,
  • a noticeable change in personality or appearance,
  • an increase in drugs and alcohol use and risky behaviours.

More Government-led mental health support for rural and remote communities

The Federal Government recently announced a further $14.3 million investment in mental health support for Australians living in rural and remote communities in Western NSW and the Northern Territory.

Minister for Health and Aged Care, Greg Hunt MP said: “We want to ensure that our young Australians, especially in rural and remote communities, know that they are not alone, which is why we’re putting more health professionals on the ground and providing more support.”

Part of the allocation in the 2021-22 Budget will fund locally tailored and culturally safe services for young people aged 12-25 years living in rural and remote areas, and engage more mental health workers.

Programs and resources for people in regional and remote communities

Problem

What we know from research

Self-stigma and perceived-stigma (negative attitudes you believe others have about you) place people experiencing suicidal ideation in a higher risk category where they may delay help-seeking or refuse to reach out to help-seeking services at all.

Solution

The Ripple Effect is an online intervention supporting males aged 30-64 working in farming who have been bereaved by, attempted or cared for someone who attempted suicide. The intervention aims to break the cycle of stigma, challenge myths and encourage increased literacy on the experience of suicide.

Find more information at The Ripple Effect (STRIDE Project), funded by beyondblue and driven by the National Centre for Farmer Health.

Problem

What we know from research

People living in rural areas are more likely to seek help from people they trust, such as their agents, suppliers, sales representatives, local community and sporting groups.

Solution

In regional, rural and remote NSW, the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP) provide locals such as agents and salespeople with the skills and confidence to help link people to mental health support. RAMHP has 20 coordinators who inform, educate and connect individuals, communities and workplaces with local mental health services and resources. They educate workplaces and communities about mental health and wellbeing and respond in times of natural disasters and severe adversity.

For more information see Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP) training

Problem

What we know from research

Better suicide prevention outcomes in rural and remote areas come from improving community awareness of mental health, access to information and services and training workforces to respond to people at risk of suicide and mental ill health.

Solution

In 2016, community efforts began to address a higher than state average rate of suicide in the Grafton/Yamba/ Maclean region of NSW. This included community meetings, interviews to identify risk and protective factors and existing mental health and wellbeing strategies, workshops to develop a local action plan and the formation of the Our Healthy Clarence Steering Committee.

Find out more: Our Healthy Clarence

Problem

What we know from research

Needs-based local suicide prevention programs that have been co-designed with input from clinicians, non-clinicians, community members, community organisations and people with lived experience of suicide can be more effective at supporting people experiencing suicidal ideation than programs designed solely by suicide prevention experts.

Solution

Under the NSW Towards Zero Suicides initiatives, Suicide Prevention Outreach Teams (SPOT) will be established in every local health district (co-designed with these communities) to provide support to at-risk people experiencing or recovering from a suicide crisis. Support will be given to people in distress in the community, where they work and live.

Find out more: Towards zero suicides

Suicide Prevention Outreach Teams

Problem

What we know from research

Australian men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women. In remote parts of Queensland, farmers die by suicide at five times the rate of non-farmers. Our understanding and knowledge of men’s mental health is continually developing and sharing this knowledge is key.

Solution

‘You Got This Mate’ provides information, videos, podcasts, PDF downloads and partner resources to support rural men to help them achieve their best possible mental health. Designed in consultation with the CRRMH’s Rural Men’s Resource Advisory Group, the website uses specially developed content and imagery to engage a rural male audience.

Find out more: You Got This Mate

Problem

What we know from research

New technologies, such as podcasts and webinars, can provide an innovative and flexible way to reach Australians in rural and regional areas and inspire conversation around mental health issues.

Solution

Topics for the ‘Let’s Talk Rural Mental Health’ podcast are developed in consultation with 19 coordinators from the CRRMH’s Rural Adversity Mental Health Program. This input – along with advice from community and industry partners – shapes the podcast content. It covers topics such as homelessness, alcohol awareness and concepts of masculinity.

Tune in: Let’s Talk Rural Mental Health podcast

Problem

What we know from research

Approximately 50 per cent of mental health problems are established by age 14.

Solution

How Are You Going? is an online mental health quiz. It provides young people with practical steps to take if they need extra support, and encourages them to track how they’re feeling.

Visit: How Are You Going? developed by ReachOut Australia and the CRRMH.

Problem

What we know from research

Stories that focus on hope and recovery - such as a couple overcoming the adversity of prolonged drought - are a powerful way of spreading suicide prevention messages.

Solution

Take Time Magazine includes stories of hope and courage from across NSW. It includes stories by real people and how they have found connection through change.

The Glove Box Guide to Mental Health is also available, sharing hope-filled stories of people in the bush.

These publications have given families a closer insight into what signs to look for, how to recognise them early, and what assistance and support is available.

Find out more: Take Time Magazine

The Glove Box Guide to Mental Health, a joint partnership between The Land newspaper and RAMHP.