Professor Diego De Leo presented a detailed report to State Coroner Michael Barnes on Wednesday, following an investigation of suicide deaths in the Ipswich and Toowoomba areas during the first six months of 2011.
The report showed three suicide deaths in Toowoomba between January 1 and June 30 this year, compared with 30 in 2006 and nine in 2010. The number has steadily dropped since 2006.
In the Ipswich region, 13 suicide deaths were recorded during the first six months of 2011, compared with six in 2010. This compared with 13 in 2004 and 12 in 2005.
Location analysis for the Ipswich region indicated that 12 of the residences of the 13 deceased were not affected by the floods.
“It can be argued that there is little evidence to indicate that the January floods contributed in any impactful way on the suicide deaths within these regions,” Professor De Leo said.
However, he proposed that the report’s findings should be interpreted with caution because of the limited data available to inform the suicide classification process.
“The current available literature did not provide conclusive evidence about associations between natural disasters and increased suicide rates.”
The report described how volunteer efforts in the wake of flood damage could be associated with increased feelings of belonging and decreased feelings of burden, and suggested that when communities pull together, as they did in Brisbane, Ipswich, Toowoomba, Grantham and the Lockyer Valley, the interpersonal risk factors associated with suicide were reduced.
“However, this effect might not be long lasting,” Professor De Leo said.
“Once the cameras disappear, victims are often left to deal with their elevated level of everyday problems and the psychological effects of disaster alone.
“It is important to consider those findings that indicate both increased psychological distress and a delayed increase in suicide rates among those affected by natural disasters.
“Consequently it is necessary to monitor any future suicidal behaviours within regions affected by the January floods and continue to provide appropriate assistance to these individuals.”
State Coroner Michael Barnes is examining the flood-related deaths of 22 people and the disappearance of three in southeast Queensland between January 10 and 17.
He will determine when and how they died, and examine whether there has been a rise in people taking their own lives as a result of the floods.