Analysis of key factors associated with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide in South Australia


Project Aim:

To conduct a thematic review of coronial information regarding South Australian suicides that took account of trauma, grief and loss, involvement with the justice system and cultural factors similar to markers of cultural continuity.



  1. Develop a strengths-based approach to suicide prevention and intervention for Aboriginal and Torres Islander people and communities.
  2. Compare the coroner’s cases of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous suicide.
  3. Explore the distinctive context of Indigenous suicide.
  4. Develop an Indigenous cultural framework for suicide research, policy and programs.
  5. Build capacity of early and mid-career researchers in Indigenous health research.
  6. Build partnerships with key stakeholders to enable research translation.


Project Team:

Project leader: Dr Tamara Mackean, Senior Research Fellow, Flinders University
Project partners: South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute
Administering organisation: Flinders University
Project timeline: 1 February 2016—30 June 2019 (amended)




  • Conducted a scoping review of the peer-reviewed and grey literature.
  • Developed a list of factors that were reviewed by the full investigator group.
  • Workshop 1: Review and discussion about indicators by the community members and stakeholders: suitability of the factors, query if additional factors should be added.
  • Development of a draft analysis framework.
  • Draft analysis framework piloted by researchers — minor adjustments were made and additional categories added.
  • Development of the final analysis framework.
  • Ethics approval received and permission granted to access the NCIS database.
  • Use of the analysis framework on data for all suicides between 2000 and 2015.


Project Findings

Between 2000 and 2015 in South Australia, there were 3,201 suicides. Of these, 73 were identified as Aboriginal people and 2 were identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (total n=75). (Refer to Table 1)

Table 1: Total number of suicides in SA 2000-2015 by cultural group

South Australia suicides 2000-2015 n
Aboriginal not Torres Strait Islander 73
Both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander 2
Neither Aboriginal nor Torres Strait Islander 992
Unlikely to be known 2134
Total 3201


Table 2: Risk and protective factors for Aboriginal suicide, as identified through a scoping review of the literature and community and stakeholder expertise

Protective Factors Risk Factors
Strong Aboriginal culture Sociodemographic factors – being a young, male living in remote areas
Connection to Country Cultural genocide
Support from family and community Racism
Community driven prevention programs Intergenerational trauma
Approaches to prevention that include Elders, community members and organisations, and Aboriginal concepts of wellbeing Grief and loss
Engagement in activities Prior exposure to suicide
Individual factors – strong sense of self and satisfaction with life Communication of intent
  Health issues
  Drug and alcohol use
  Poorly functioning relationships
  Individual factors – low self-esteem and a lack of personal sovereignty
  Lack of support
  Negative social determinants of Indigenous health


The project identified several protective factors and risk factors. The following is a summary of the protective factors at the individual, organisational, societal, and global levels:

  • Individual level
    • strong sense of identity
    • self-esteem and pride
    • sense of purpose and satisfaction in life
    • being engaged in activities (e.g, sport, land management).
  • Organisational level
    • adequate resourcing in terms of infrastructure (including data management systems) and for holistic operations
    • culturally responsive and representative workforce
    • training opportunities for Aboriginal people
    • non-discriminatory organisation processes and procedures facilitating community engagement, participation and cross agency work.
  • Societal level
    • inclusive society that accepts difference with structures and institutions that enable self-determination.
  • Supranational level
    • recognition of sovereignty
    • valuing Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing.


Project Outcomes


The project has highlighted database issues that affect all South Australians and is contributing to evidence for the implementation of a SA Suicide Registry.

This would begin to redress current issues with identification and information capture within the National Coronial Information System (NCIS) as well as give an opportunity for some key factors to be included.

The research has also contributed to increasing the strengths-based evidence base for Aboriginal suicide.


The project has highlighted database issues that affect all South Australians and is contributing to evidence for the implementation of a SA Suicide Registry.

  • improved evidence base for key factors for Aboriginal suicide
  • development of appropriate resources for community
  • better collection of data
  • improved approaches to assessing and responding to risk.

The project will contribute to the efforts of the Office of the Chief Psychiatrist (OCP) developing an Aboriginal specific mental health service for SA.

Acknowledgement of Country

We acknowledge the traditional owners of the land across Australia and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, voices and names of deceased persons.