Suicide in rural Australia: A retrospective study of mental health problems, healthseeking and service utilisation

Scott J. Fitzpatrick, Tonelle Handley, Nic Powell, Donna Read, Kerry J. Inder, David Perkins, Bronwyn K. Brew

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)
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Background Suicide rates are higher in rural Australia than in major cities, although the factors contributing to this are not well understood. This study highlights trends in suicide and examines the prevalence of mental health problems and service utilisation of non-Indigenous Australians by geographic remoteness in rural Australia. Methods A retrospective study of National Coronial Information System data of intentional self-harm deaths in rural New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania for 2010- 2015 from the National Coronial Information System. Results There were 3163 closed cases of intentional self-harm deaths by non-Indigenous Australians for the period 2010-2015. The suicide rate of 12.7 deaths per 100,000 persons was 11% higher than the national Australian rate and increased with remoteness. Among people who died by suicide, up to 56% had a diagnosed mental illness, and a further 24% had undiagnosed symptoms. Reported diagnoses of mental illness decreased with remoteness, as did treatment for mental illness, particularly in men. The most reported diagnoses were mood disorders (70%), psychotic disorders (9%) and anxiety disorders (8%). In the six weeks before suicide, 22% of cases had visited any type of health service at least once, and 6% had visited two or more services. Medication alone accounted for 76% of all cases treated. Conclusions Higher suicide rates in rural areas, which increase with remoteness, may be attributable to decreasing diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders, particularly in men. Less availability of mental health specialists coupled with socio-demographic factors within more remote areas may contribute to lower mental health diagnoses and treatment. Despite an emphasis on improving health-seeking and service accessibility in rural Australia, research is needed to determine factors related to the under-utilisation of services and treatment by specific groups vulnerable to death by suicide.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0245271
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalPLoS One
Issue number7 July
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021
Externally publishedYes


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