Background: Understanding the spatial distribution of suicide can inform the planning, implementation and evaluation of suicide prevention activity. This study explored spatial clusters of suicide in Australia, and investigated likely socio-demographic determinants of these clusters.
Methods: National suicide and population data at a statistical local area (SLA) level were obtained from the Australian Bureau of Statistics for the period of 1999 to 2003. Standardised mortality ratios (SMR) were calculated at the SLA level, and Geographic Information System (GIS) techniques were applied to investigate the geographical distribution of suicides and detect clusters of high risk in Australia.
Results: Male suicide incidence was relatively high in the northeast of Australia, and parts of the east coast, central and southeast inland, compared with the national average. Among the total male population and males aged 15 to 34, Mornington Shire had the whole or a part of primary high risk cluster for suicide, followed by the Bathurst-Melville area, one of the secondary clusters in the north coastal area of the Northern Territory. Other secondary clusters changed with the selection of cluster radius and age group. For males aged 35 to 54 years, only one cluster in the east of the country was identified. There was only one significant female suicide cluster near Melbourne while other SLAs had very few female suicide cases and were not identified as clusters. Male suicide clusters had a higher proportion of Indigenous population and lower median socio-economic index for area (SEIFA) than the national average, but their shapes changed with selection of maximum cluster radii setting.
Conclusion: This study found high suicide risk clusters at the SLA level in Australia, which appeared to be associated with lower median socio-economic status and higher proportion of Indigenous population. Future suicide prevention programs should focus on these high risk areas.