Behaviours & risk factors

Risk factors are behaviours or aspects of lifestyle, environmental exposures or inherited characteristics that can interact to influence people’s risk of suicidal behaviours. Therefore, looking at risk factors at a population level can help target assistance.

It is important to remember that the presence of one or more of these risk factors cannot predict or explain suicide or intentional self-harm as each person’s experience is unique. Experiencing any of these risk factors does not necessarily mean a person has—or ever will—attempt suicide, but establishing whether a person has any of these risk factors can help determine whether they are at increased risk. Also, some people will have suicidal thoughts without having a history of any risk factors.

Risk factors and behaviours can be modifiable (change over time; for example, illicit drug use) or non-modifiable (permanent or constant; for example, a personal history of self-harm). They can also be background factors (such as a childhood history of abuse) or recent stressful life events. The presence of these factors and their influence is different from person to person over their lifetime and can vary by sex, culture and other characteristics.

Information on these risk factors in Australians has been obtained from a number of sources by making greater use of existing data sets or by integrating multiple data sets. This includes:

  • the presence of psychosocial factors (for example, a past history of self-harm; relationship problems; legal issues; bereavement; unemployment; homelessness; and disability) in deaths by suicide obtained by manual review of reports and coronial findings held by the National Coronial Information System (NCIS) by the Australian Bureau of Statistics
  • the effect of differences in educational attainment and labour force status in deaths by suicide obtained by integrating the ABS Causes of Death data set with that of the Census 2011
  • risk factors associated with suicide and self-inflicted injuries included in the Australian Burden of Disease Study 2015.