The National Suicide Prevention Research Fund was established by the Commonwealth Government to support world-class research into suicide prevention and facilitate the rapid translation of knowledge into more effective services for individuals, families and communities.
Suicide Prevention Australia commissioned KPMG Australia to perform significant new research mapping the experience of consumers and carers in the suicide prevention system, and analysing the economic impact of key touchpoints. The research was commissioned under the National Suicide Prevention Research Fund. Read the full report here.
The Commissioned Evidence Checks and Research Reports were prepared for the National Suicide Prevention Adviser and the National Suicide Prevention Taskforce, commissioned through the National Suicide Prevention Research Fund, managed by Suicide Prevention Australia.
Find out more information about research grant opportunities here.
Commissioned Research: Evidence checks commissioned by the National Suicide Prevention Taskforce
Webinar: The role of housing insecurity and homelessness in suicidal behaviour
Research funded by the Suicide Prevention Research Fund
Co-investigators: Dr George Disney, A/Prof Georgina Sutherland, Prof Matthew Spittal, Prof Anne Kavanagh, Dr Koen Simons, Ms Sanya Wadhwa, Dr Yamna Taouk
While workers’ compensation schemes aim to assist and support injured workers, there is some evidence that the process of pursuing a compensation claim may be extremely stressful for workers. While this stress is considered to be a contributing factor in some suicides, there is a lack of evidence regarding this putative association.
This research aimed to examine the evidence of an association between workers compensation and deliberate self-harm. To do this, we firstly carried out a systematic review, and then used hospital admissions data to empirically assess this relationship between workers’ compensation and self-harm. Here we describe these two separate but complementary programs of work.
- Systematic review
This aim of this systematic review was to review and synthesise international evidence of the association between workers’ compensation and mental health and self-harm outcomes. We carried out a systematic review of the literature using a three-tiered search
strategy across five databases (PubMed, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, Web of Science and Scopus). To be included in the review, studies must have been based on a population of employed individual and must have used workers’ compensation claims as an exposure or risk factor. Eligible outcomes included mental health, self-harm, or suicide. and study participants being employed individuals. Of 4910 records arising in the search, 9 studies met the inclusion criteria. There was great heterogeneity across the nine included studies in terms of
study design, patient demographics and the measurement of outcome. Of included studies, two studies reported outcomes related to suicide and seven studies reported outcomes related to mental health. Overall, most studies indicated an adverse association between pursuing workers’ compensation and mental health and suicide outcomes, however the generalisability of some of these studies is limited. There was some evidence that specific aspects of the compensation system underpinned this association, including the perception of justice, the requirement of support to navigate the claims system, involvement in
litigation and whether the individual had additional sources of income.
- Empirical research
The aim of this research was to compare hospital admissions for self-harm among workers’ compensation claimants and non-claimants. To do this, we carried out a retrospective case-series study using hospital admissions data from the Centre for Victorian Data Linkage. We used data for 44,324 patients from Victorian hospitals (2011-2018) to estimate rates of hospital admission for intentional self-harm and probable intentional self-harm (due to intentional self-harm, poisoning, or undetermined intent). We stratified rates by gender and calculated for each age-group. We found that for males, there was no observable difference between claimants and non-claimants for admission due to intentional self-harm. For female claimants, the incidence rate for hospital admission for intentional self-harm was higher than non-claimants (relative risk (RR) 2.4, risk difference (RD) 47.7 per 100,000). For the combined category of ‘self-harm and probable self-harm’, the incidence rate was elevated in both male (RR 5.8, RD 167.7 per 100,000) and female workers’ compensation claimants (RR 3.4, RD 114.8 per 100,000) relative to non-claimants. We concluded that female workers’ compensation claimants appear to be at elevated risk of admission for intentional self-harm and ‘self-harm and probable self-harm’ compared to non-claimants. Male claimants appear to be at increased risk of hospital admission for ‘self-harm and probable self-harm’. This suggests that the process of pursuing workers’ compensation may be associated with increased risk of hospital admission for self-harm, and highlights a need for further research.
Overall, the results of these two programs of work indicate that individuals who are workers’ compensation claimants may be at elevated risk of poor mental health and self-harm.
Outcomes of this research
King, Disney, Sutherland, Kavanagh, Spittal, Simons. Associations between workers’ compensation and self-harm: a retrospective case-series study of hospital admissions data, submitted to Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Wadhwa, Taouk, Spittal, King. Workplace injury compensation and mental health and self-harm outcomes: A Systematic Approach, submitted to Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Short project title: Australian Youth Self-Harm Atlas
Lead Investigator: Dr Emily Hielscher (QIMRB/UQ),
Co-Investigator: Prof James Scott (QIMRB), Prof David Lawrence (UWA), Prof Philip Batterham (ANU), Martina McGrath (Roses in the Ocean), Kathy Poulton (Roses in the Ocean), Dr Ivan Chang (QIMRB), Dr Karen Hay (QIMRB), Julie Blake (QIMRB), Erika Giebels (QIMRB)
Partner organisation: Roses in the Ocean (suicide prevention NGO)
Suicide prevention strategies in Australia have shifted in recent years, from a national approach to one that is regionally tailored and responsive to local community needs. Previous literature supports the need to understand suicidal behaviour within small-area geographies. However, this body of research has focused on suicide deaths which may not properly reflect prevention needs, and few studies have focused on young people. This is a priority population where urgent action needs to be taken to prevent suicides in Australia.
This was the first nationwide Australian study to examine regional variability of youth self-harm (non-suicidal self-harm and suicide attempts), and related risk and protective factors. This was achieved by analysing the Young Minds Matter survey, a nationally representative survey of Australian adolescents, and by conducting 14 focus groups with young people with lived experience of self-harm or suicidality and other key stakeholders (clinical/support staff) in geographically diverse areas. Collectively, this mixed methods project intended to identify characteristics of regions with lower and higher self-harm and suicide risk, and, in turn, help establish meaningful targets for youth suicide prevention informed by both national data and lived experience.
Overall, there was large regional variation in the prevalence and experience of self-harm (non-suicidal and suicidal) among young Australians, providing further support for the National Suicide Prevention Strategy of a systems-based regional approach. Nationwide spatial analyses of self-harm prevalence provided clear rationale for where future prevention efforts should be prioritised across Australia. This included self-harm clustering in metro and regional areas across Western Australia, Northern Territory, Queensland, Victoria, and New South Wales.
The mental health of young people was an important factor in spatial analyses and focus group discussions and should continue to be a key target in youth suicide prevention policy and planning. In addition, relations with parents and school staff, digital/online environment interactions, and a myriad of social determinants of health (parent employment and country of birth, housing quality, financial/transportation barriers) require equal consideration. Large and disruptive environmental stressors/events (climate change, COVID-19) also need to be factored into the sector’s policy planning and service delivery; highlighted in youth focus group discussions as the backdrop of today’s young people’s lives. This systems-based approach was further reiterated by staff focus group participants, viewed as key to effectively managing youth self-harm and suicidality out in the community.
Youth focus groups also provided new understandings of regional variability in (1) self-identified risk and protective factors, and (2) self-identified barriers to help seeking/receiving. In terms of the latter, metro and regional groups faced similar barriers, however, the nature of the problem differed with respect to service accessibility issues (wait times vs. travel distances) and types of stigma faced (staff vs. community stigma related to the small-town effect). Such findings should provide primary health networks (PHNs) and other service planners with a better understanding of the more pertinent service needs and barriers faced by young people in regional versus metro areas. Finally, there was overlap between youth and staff focus group suggestions for sector improvements, including increasing afterhours supports, more missing middle services, and including peer workers at all levels of the sector.
Collectively, our mixed methods results are reflective of the wider literature focused on the intersection of geography and psychology, where place is critical for one’s mental health and wellbeing. Recommended next steps focus on establishing/strengthening data partnerships in identified youth self-harm clustering regions; increased research efforts and program planning focused on youth mental health and employment/socioeconomic outcomes of single parents; hosting discussions on e-safety and service barriers (in regional vs. metro areas); and devising mental health and self-harm education programs for parents and school staff.
Hannah Wells1, Jessica Wilson1, Dara Sampson1, Bronte Speirs1, Frances Kay-Lambkin1
1 College of Health, Medicine, and Wellbeing, The University of Newcastle, Australia
Professor Frances Kay-Lambkin
Professor Brian Kelly
Professor Sally Chan
Suicide Prevention Australia
National Health and Medical Research Council
People aged 60 years and over are the fastest growing age group in the Australian community. Unfortunately, depression, alcohol use, social isolation, and suicidal behaviour are also increasing in this age group, and frequently co-occur. Not only are these conditions poorly identified, but they are also regularly confounded by a number of physical health conditions that often go unreported. Further, older Australians do not typically access mental health services for these issues, and when they do, treatment responses are not always effective.
Several barriers to the access and use of traditional health services by older adults exist. These include poor mental health literacy, limited access to information and resources, mental health stigma, generational stoicism, and physical and geographical limitations. This is particularly true for mental health services where rates of treatment access by older Australians is significantly lower than for other age groups. There is a need for new and accessible intervention approaches to address some of the burdens these issues place on older Australians, their families, and the health care system.
The use of the internet, social media platforms, and health care applications has significantly increased in the last five years for Australians aged 60 years and over. Digital and web-based technologies provide an important opportunity to address depression, alcohol use problems, and social isolation, as these are significant risk factors for suicide in older Australians. The SHADE Plus research trial sought to build on the momentum of existing digital technologies by testing the effects of a 10-week online intervention for depression and alcohol use (the SHADE program) and an online moderated peer-support community (Breathing Space), on the mental health and wellbeing of Australians aged 60 years and over. These were complemented by weekly telephone check-ins for the duration of the trial, targeted towards supporting participants’ experiences of the study.
Preliminary findings from interviews with participants and notes recorded during weekly check-in calls indicate that there is a place for digital technologies like SHADE and Breathing Space in the mental health care of older adults. While motivation to engage with the autonomous digital mental health intervention varied, findings suggest that those who did engage, with the support from the check-ins, received the greatest benefit, including subjective reduction in alcohol use and increased positive mood. Generally, participants expressed strong behavioural intentions to use both technologies, which was facilitated by their digital literacy. Findings also revealed a number of factors that were considered particularly important in relation to older peoples’ decisions to use such interventions, including technical support, the inclusion of age-matched peers in the design of interventions, acknowledgement of the unique challenges and diverse experiences associated with ageing, and the inclusion of opportunities for interpersonal connection with clinicians and peers.
By leveraging growing opportunities in the digital health space, the SHADE Plus trial illuminates a new model of care for the mental health and wellbeing of older Australians which addresses the risk factors of suicide and bolsters a known protective factor—social connectedness—using a novel, web-based intervention approach. Preliminary findings point to the efficacy of SHADE, Breathing Space, and the weekly check-in phone calls, demonstrating potential for their scale-up and translation into clinical practice and community settings across Australia.
Investigative Team: Professor Jill Bennett, Dr. Peggy Brown, Benjamin McKinnon, Dr. Stephen Parker, Nicole Dickson, and Gabrielle Vilic
Research Manager: Stephanie Habak
Partner Organisation: Metro South Health, STRIDE