Rural suicide risk and physical ill health: A qualitative study of the Victorian Suicide Register, 2009-2015



To gain new insight into contextual factors shaping how physical ill health acts as a stressor in rural suicides—informing the development of appropriate targeted interventions.


Retrospective cohort study.


Non-metropolitan Victoria, Australia.


802 rural (non-metropolitan) suicide deaths between the years 2009 and 2015.

Main outcome measure

Qualitative data from the Victorian Suicide Register relating to physical ill health of suicide decedents.


Thematic analysis identified 4 themes: (a) ‘living with physical ill health in a rural area’ highlights both practical and cultural challenges associated with managing physical ill health within the context of life in a rural setting; (b) ‘causes and experience of chronic pain’ highlights rural risk factors for chronic pain, how pain was experienced and treatment managed; (c) ‘when living an independent, contributing life is no longer possible’ describes the debilitating physical and mental outcomes of chronic ill health and pain; and (d) ‘the cumulative impact of physical ill health and other factors on suicide risk’ highlights the complexity of risk factors—in combination with (or as a result of) physical ill health—that contribute to a suicide death.


Identified themes suggest pathways to improve understanding and support for those experiencing physical ill health and associated suicide risk. These supports include contextually and culturally appropriate rural services to provide effective and necessary treatment, pain relief and mental health support; acknowledgement and response to a culture of alcohol misuse as an (ultimately ineffective) coping strategy; proactive psychosocial support mechanisms; and alternative approaches to support including consideration of innovative peer support models.

Alison J. Kennedy PhD, Jessie Adams BPubHealth & HealthProm (Hons), Jeremy Dwyer PhD, Susan Brumby PhDNovember 2021Rural suicide risk and physical ill health: A qualitative study of the Victorian Suicide Register, 2009-2015Australian Journal of Rural HealthGo to page