Two years on, Young Lives Matter says suicide prediction more important than ever

Mental health researchers at The University of Western Australia’s Young Lives Matter Foundation are moving closer to accurately identifying individuals at greater risk of suicide, so timely support can be directed to safeguard them.

Research that has now reached its two-year milestone has achieved a 77.7 per cent successful prediction rate for self-harm incidents in pilot modelling.

YLM lead researcher Professor Andrew Page said the work pulled together recognised risk factors such as unemployment and trauma and combined them with real-time tracking of patients and computer learning, to create an accurate suicide predictive index.

“This enables intervention to occur where and when it is needed most, to save lives,” Professor Page said. “Our goal is to create a future where we will know who to support and when, especially during unprecedented events such as COVID-19.”

Predictions of an upsurge in suicide related to the stresses of the current coronavirus pandemic demonstrated how accurate prediction of those at most risk could help prevent an increase in incidence.

“No one in the world could have anticipated just how critical suicide detection would become in the new era of coping with the presence of COVID-19,” Professor Page said.

“As Australia re-orients itself following the arrival of the pandemic, acclimatising to physical distancing, economic and financial concerns, mental health experts have sounded the alarm that the next curve we have to flatten is an impending growth in suicides.

“Reported modelling by the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre suggests a potential for an additional 750 suicides per year.”

Accurate prediction could highlight time-critical circumstantial stressors – such as pivotal moments during unemployment or financial loss and help best direct government funding of mental health services.

“We know these pivotal moments hold the key to being able to safeguard “at risk individuals,” he said.

“It is well recognised that mental ill health is not always a factor in suicides. Suicide can also be driven by a change in circumstances, in someone who has no previous experience of crisis or suicide risk, making the prediction model absolutely critical now and beyond COVID-19.”

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800, MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

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