Suicide along the Australian coast: Exploring the epidemiology and risk factors
Lawes, J.C., Peden, A.E., Bugeja, L., Strasiotto, L., Daw, S., & Franklin, R.C.
Suicide is an increasing global concern with multiple risk factors, yet location-based understanding is limited. In Australia, surf lifesavers (SLS) and lifeguards patrol the coast, performing rescues and assisting injured people, including people who suicide. This study is a descriptive epidemiological analysis of Australian coastal suicide deaths. The results will be used to inform training and support surf lifesaving personnel and suicide prevention organisations. This is a population-based cross-sectional study of suicide deaths at Australian coastal locations (between 1 January 2005 and 31 December 2019). Data were sourced from the National Coronial Information System and SLS Australia’s Incident Report Database. Analyses explored decedent, incident, and risk factors by sex and method. Across the study period, there were 666 coastal suicide deaths (71.0% male, 43.4% jumping from high places [X80]). Males were more likely to suicide by other means (hanging, self-poisoning, firearm discharge; n = 145, 83.8%), compared to females who were more likely to suicide by drowning ([X71]; n = 77, 37.7%). In one third (n = 225, 38.3%) toxicology was a contributing factor. The risk of coastal suicides was 10.3 times higher during the seven-days prior to their birthday (p<0.001). Evidence of mental ill health was reported in 61.4% (n = 409) of cases and evidence of suicidal behaviour was reported for 37.4% of decedents (n = 249), more prevalent in females. SLS responded in 10.7% (n = 71) of coastal suicides (most jumps from high places; n = 36, 50.7%). Coastal suicides differ to national trends suggesting that location-based differences should be considered during development of preventative and protective measures, especially at a community level. Accessibility, availability, perceived lethality and symbolic qualities are proposed to influence suicide location decisions. These results will guide support and education strategies for surf lifesaving personnel, contributes to established, ongoing suicide surveillance efforts (including hot-spot identification) and add to the limited literature exploring place-based suicide.