Researcher calls for new community-based suicide prevention strategies

The real rate of suicidal behaviour among young men is likely to be much higher than official figures suggest.

Research presented in Ballarat has revealed that for each young man who presents to hospital with self-harm, as many as nine more reported engaging in this behaviour in the community.

Dr Katrina Witt from Monash University’s Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre told the Australasian Injury Prevention and Safety Promotion Conference at the Mercure Hotel, that most cases of suicidal behaviour among young men were treated by ambulance officers or within the community instead of in a hospital, leading to an underestimation of the extent of the problem.

“Previous work on alcohol and drug-related harm in males who engage in suicidal behaviour tends to be based on data from national sources on hospital-treated self harm,” Dr Witt said.

“We know from research that males are less likely than females to want to use hospital-based services and rely on the ambulance service more, particularly around self harm, and a lot of what we know in terms of trends and data is based on hospital presentation.”

In many cases, ambulance officers are the frontline health care system for these people, placing a significant burden on paramedics.

“Ambulances come out to the patient, see the context of the patient and the enviornment they are in and document those sort of things, which you don’t get from a hospital report,” she said.

Dr Witt said new community-based suicide prevention strategies were needed to help these men, who were mostly aged under 40.

“What this study tells us is that to achieve suicide prevention we need a more front-line community-based approach which everyone has access to.”

From July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014, ambulance paramedics in the ACT, NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria attended 23,452 men following an episode of suicidal behaviour including making threats, self injury, or self-poisoning.

Alcohol was involved in around a third of cases, illicit drug use in about one in 10 cases, but Dr Witt said of most concern was the high level of pharmaceutical drugs involved in many cases.

“Results describe patterns of alcohol, illicit and pharmaceutical misuse in males who engage in self harm in the community and suggest that these attendances place significant burdens on ambulance services nation wide,” Dr Witt said.

The conference, organised by Federation University’s Australian Collaboration for Research into Injury in Sport and its Prevention (ACRISP) and the Australian Injury Prevention Network (AIPN), has attracted delegates from around the world to Ballarat.

“More than 200 delegates from around Australia and the Asia Pacific are expected at the conference,” said Professor Caroline Finch, ACRISP director and chair of the conference organising committee.

Themes of the conference include child and family safety, road and transport safety, falls and ageing, water safety (including drowning), burns prevention, injury in a global perspective, rural and remote injury prevention, sports injury prevention and treatment, workplace safety and more.

  • Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14