Academic journal article Australian Health Review

Research Priorities in Suicide Prevention: An Examination of Australian-Based Research 2007-11

Academic journal article Australian Health Review

Research Priorities in Suicide Prevention: An Examination of Australian-Based Research 2007-11

Article excerpt


Suicide is a significant public health problem, including among youth. Indeed, suicide is one of the most frequent causes of death among young people, not only in Australia1 but worldwide.2 In Australia in 2010, the year for which most recent data are available, 2361 lives were lost to suicide in Australia. Two hundred and ninety-nine of these suicides were by people aged 24 years or younger.

Non-fatal suicide-related behaviour, including suicide attempt and/or deliberate self-harm, and suicidal ideation are more commonthan suicide. In Australia approximately13%of adults report experiencing suicidal ideation during their lifetime, and around 3% report having made a suicide attempt. The equivalent 12-month prevalence rates are 2.3% and 0.4% for ideation and attempts respectively.3 International data show that these figures are higher among young people, with as many as 30% of 15-16 year olds reporting a lifetime prevalence of suicidal ideation, and up to 17% reporting a past suicide attempt. Equivalent 12-month figures are 24% for ideation and 11% for suicide attempts.4 These behaviours are one of the greatest concerns for Australian youth5 and are associated with a range of negative outcomes including completed suicide and premature mortality via other causes.6,7

For these reasons, the prevention of suicide has been a national priority in Australia for some time, beginning with the National Youth Suicide Prevention Strategy, which was introduced in 1999,8 and continuing with the National Suicide Prevention Strategy,9 which has a broader focus, covering the whole lifespan, although still places a strong emphasis on youth.

Despite these efforts, rates of suicide and suicide-related behaviours remain high, in particular among young people. One possible explanation for this might be that we are not prioritising the types of activities that are likely to reduce suicide risk. Although much is known about the epidemiology of suicide, there has, to date, been relatively little intervention research in the field of suicide prevention,10 in particular among youth,11,12 and including in Australia. We previously conducted a study examining the extent and nature of suicide-prevention research being conducted in Australia during the period 1999-2006 and found that although young people were a highly researched group in terms of published articles, most studies were epidemiological in nature reporting on rates of, and risk factors for, suicide, as opposed to studies reporting on the effectiveness of individual interventions.10 This lack of emphasis on relevant research means that relatively little is known about what does and does not work in terms of reducing suicide risk, which hampers both policy initiatives and preventative efforts more generally.

The aim of the present study was to review all suicideprevention research that has been conducted in Australia in the 5 years since our previous study (i.e. between January 2007 and December 2011). Because of the national focus that has been given to youth suicide over recent years,13 and because early suicide-related behaviour is the greatest predictor of later suicide, 7,14 we placed a specific emphasis on studies relating to young people. This was done with the hope that if we can intervene promptly, with effective interventions for young people displaying early indicators of suicide-related behaviour, more lives could be saved. This rationale has been applied to early intervention in youth mental health more generally,15 and could equally be applied here. In addition, we were particularly interested in the balance of intervention studies relative to other kinds of suicide-prevention research. We did this with a view to determining whether or not we are prioritising the sort of research that can adequately inform policy development and guide 'best practice' when it comes to reducing suicide among Australians in general, and young Australians in particular. …

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