Socio-environmental factors and suicide in Queensland, Australia

Qi, Xin (2009) Socio-environmental factors and suicide in Queensland, Australia. Masters by Research thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Suicide has drawn much attention from both the scientific community and the public. Examining the impact of socio-environmental factors on suicide is essential in developing suicide prevention strategies and interventions, because it will provide health authorities with important information for their decision-making. However, previous studies did not examine the impact of socio-environmental factors on suicide using a spatial analysis approach.

The purpose of this study was to identify the patterns of suicide and to examine how socio-environmental factors impact on suicide over time and space at the Local Governmental Area (LGA) level in Queensland. The suicide data between 1999 and 2003 were collected from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Socio-environmental variables at the LGA level included climate (rainfall, maximum and minimum temperature), Socioeconomic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) and demographic variables (proportion of Indigenous population, unemployment rate, proportion of population with low income and low education level). Climate data were obtained from Australian Bureau of Meteorology. SEIFA and demographic variables were acquired from ABS. A series of statistical and geographical information system (GIS) approaches were applied in the analysis. This study included two stages. The first stage used average annual data to view the spatial pattern of suicide and to examine the association between socio-environmental factors and suicide over space. The second stage examined the spatiotemporal pattern of suicide and assessed the socio-environmental determinants of suicide, using more detailed seasonal data.

In this research, 2,445 suicide cases were included, with 1,957 males (80.0%) and 488 females (20.0%). In the first stage, we examined the spatial pattern and the determinants of suicide using 5-year aggregated data. Spearman correlations were used to assess associations between variables. Then a Poisson regression model was applied in the multivariable analysis, as the occurrence of suicide is a small probability event and this model fitted the data quite well. Suicide mortality varied across LGAs and was associated with a range of socio-environmental factors. The multivariable analysis showed that maximum temperature was significantly and positively associated with male suicide (relative risk [RR] = 1.03, 95% CI: 1.00 to 1.07). Higher proportion of Indigenous population was accompanied with more suicide in male population (male: RR = 1.02, 95% CI: 1.01 to 1.03). There was a positive association between unemployment rate and suicide in both genders (male: RR = 1.04, 95% CI: 1.02 to 1.06; female: RR = 1.07, 95% CI: 1.00 to 1.16). No significant association was observed for rainfall, minimum temperature, SEIFA, proportion of population with low individual income and low educational attainment.

In the second stage of this study, we undertook a preliminary spatiotemporal analysis of suicide using seasonal data. Firstly, we assessed the interrelations between variables. Secondly, a generalised estimating equations (GEE) model was used to examine the socio-environmental impact on suicide over time and space, as this model is well suited to analyze repeated longitudinal data (e.g., seasonal suicide mortality in a certain LGA) and it fitted the data better than other models (e.g., Poisson model). The suicide pattern varied with season and LGA. The north of Queensland had the highest suicide mortality rate in all the seasons, while there was no suicide case occurred in the southwest. Northwest had consistently higher suicide mortality in spring, autumn and winter. In other areas, suicide mortality varied between seasons. This analysis showed that maximum temperature was positively associated with suicide among male population (RR = 1.24, 95% CI: 1.04 to 1.47) and total population (RR = 1.15, 95% CI: 1.00 to 1.32). Higher proportion of Indigenous population was accompanied with more suicide among total population (RR = 1.16, 95% CI: 1.13 to 1.19) and by gender (male: RR = 1.07, 95% CI: 1.01 to 1.13; female: RR = 1.23, 95% CI: 1.03 to 1.48). Unemployment rate was positively associated with total (RR = 1.40, 95% CI: 1.24 to 1.59) and female (RR=1.09, 95% CI: 1.01 to 1.18) suicide. There was also a positive association between proportion of population with low individual income and suicide in total (RR = 1.28, 95% CI: 1.10 to 1.48) and male (RR = 1.45, 95% CI: 1.23 to 1.72) population. Rainfall was only positively associated with suicide in total population (RR = 1.11, 95% CI: 1.04 to 1.19). There was no significant association for rainfall, minimum temperature, SEIFA, proportion of population with low educational attainment. The second stage is the extension of the first stage. Different spatial scales of dataset were used between the two stages (i.e., mean yearly data in the first stage, and seasonal data in the second stage), but the results are generally consistent with each other.

Compared with other studies, this research explored the variety of the impact of a wide range of socio-environmental factors on suicide in different geographical units. Maximum temperature, proportion of Indigenous population, unemployment rate and proportion of population with low individual income were among the major determinants of suicide in Queensland. However, the influence from other factors (e.g. socio-culture background, alcohol and drug use) influencing suicide cannot be ignored. An in-depth understanding of these factors is vital in planning and implementing suicide prevention strategies.

Five recommendations for future research are derived from this study: (1) It is vital to acquire detailed personal information on each suicide case and relevant information among the population in assessing the key socio-environmental determinants of suicide; (2) Bayesian model could be applied to compare mortality rates and their socio-environmental determinants across LGAs in future research; (3) In the LGAs with warm weather, high proportion of Indigenous population and/or unemployment rate, concerted efforts need to be made to control and prevent suicide and other mental health problems; (4) The current surveillance, forecasting and early warning system needs to be strengthened, to trace the climate and socioeconomic change over time and space and its impact on population health; (5) It is necessary to evaluate and improve the facilities of mental health care, psychological consultation, suicide prevention and control programs; especially in the areas with low socio-economic status, high unemployment rate, extreme weather events and natural disasters.

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ID Code: 30317
Item Type: QUT Thesis (Masters by Research)
Supervisor: Tong, Shilu, Fitzgerald, Gerard, & Hu, Wenbiao
Keywords: generalized estimating equations model, geographical information system, Poisson regression model, spatiotemporal analysis, socio-environmental factors, suicide
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Schools > School of Public Health & Social Work
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 09 Feb 2010 02:56
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:55

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