Suicide rates in Australia have not declined over the past decade with recent statistics showing they may actually be rising. For every suicide death as many as 25 individuals will attempt suicide. Based on this estimate, approximately 71,600 people in Australia will attempt suicide in any given year. Suicide is recognised as a public health crisis in Australia and internationally.
Led by Scientia Professor Helen Christensen, suicide prevention research is one of the Black Dog Institute's priority research areas. Our research is focused on developing and evaluating effective prevention strategies to reduce the numbers of deaths by suicide and reduce the number of suicide attempts. We are also working to identify ways to improve support after an attempt is made.
Why is suicide prevention so important?
The Black Dog Institute is a strong and vocal player in suicide research, an area of great unmet need. The Black Dog Institute currently hosts the prestigious NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention, led by Professor Christensen.
Young Australians are more likely to take their own life than die from motor vehicle accidents or skin cancer. Suicide is the most common cause of death in Australians aged 15-44 and the tenth most common cause of death overall for Australian males. In Australia, the financial costs have been estimated at $17.5b or 1% of GDP.
Many people with suicidal thoughts are reluctant to seek help. The Internet can play an important role in overcoming obstacles for seeking help by providing accessible and anonymous prevention efforts. The suicide prevention research team are working on a range of projects in suicide prevention.
iBobbly (a name derived from a Kimberley greeting) is a trial of the world’s first suicide prevention app designed especially for use by Indigenous people on mobile phones or tablet devices. The iBobbly app delivers treatment-based therapy in a culturally relevant way. Based on psychological therapies proven to reduce suicidal thoughts, it draws heavily on Indigenous metaphors, images and stories from local Aboriginal artists and performers. The app format jumps two major hurdles to seeking help, perceived stigma and geographical isolation.
Healthy Thinking Trial: targeting suicidal thoughts
The Healthy Thinking trial aims to test the effectiveness of a web-based self-help program for people with suicidal thoughts. The major aim of this study is to determine whether an evidence-based web-based self-help program reduces levels of suicidal thoughts.
RAFT (Reconnecting AFTer a Suicide Attempt)
The first few days following hospital release after a suicide attempt or deliberate self-harm are critical. However, one third of people presenting to hospital following a suicide attempt will receive no mental health follow up. Research has found that brief contact with patients discharged from hospital, through things like a postcard, letter or phone call, are effective in reducing suicidal behaviour including intentional self-harm or repeated attempts. Some research has seen brief interventions reduce the number of suicide re-attempts by around 50%. However, getting in contact with patients using digital communication has yet to be tested. RAFT (Reconnecting AFTer a Suicide Attempt), is assessing whether receiving text messages is a feasible and effective method to reduce the rate of suicide and self-harm in individuals with a recent hospital-treated episode of deliberate self-harm.
LifeSpan: a new, evidence-based, integrated systems approach to suicide prevention
LifeSpan is an innovative world-class approach to suicide prevention and the new name for the Systems Approach to Suicide Prevention, initially developed on behalf of the Mental Health Commission of NSW by the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention (CRESP) and the Black Dog Institute. Development involved extensive collaboration and input from partners across the sector and lived experience representatives.
In December 2015, the Black Dog Institute received an independent philanthropic grant from the Paul Ramsay Foundation to deliver LifeSpan in four NSW sites and to scientifically assess the impact of this comprehensive strategy. Through delivery of a whole-of-community prevention focus, the ultimate goal of LifeSpan is suicide prevention and supporting people to live full, contributing lives.
Based on the most up-to-date evidence available and drawing from positive results of similar large-scale suicide prevention programs overseas, this integrated systems approach is expected to prevent 21% of suicide deaths and 30% of suicide attempts.