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Bond University Professor receives $560,000 grant for suicide prevention research

Bond University Professor Chris Stapelberg has been awarded $560,000 in Federal Government funding for research into suicide prevention treatments to be trialled on the Gold Coast.

Suicide Prevention Australia (SPA) announced the grant will go towards Professor Stapelberg, who is the Chair in Mental Health for Bond University and Gold Coast Health, and his research team.

The project, anticipated to begin early 2019, will run for three years and focus on Gold Coast patients presenting through emergency departments and community health settings with suicidal thoughts and behaviours.

The money is part of $2.3 million in funding announced by the SPA for four research projects, in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia. The grants are the first to be awarded from the Australian Government’s National Suicide Prevention Research Fund.

Professor Stapelberg said he and his colleagues were appreciative of the support from SPA, with suicide prevention at the forefront of healthcare issues in Australia, killing twice as many Australians as road crashes.

“It’s an issue that is increasingly receiving attention,” he said.

“Suicide is the leading cause of death among all people 15-44 years of age in Australia and it’s a substantial challenge worldwide.”

Professor Stapelberg said he was hopeful the project would quickly make a positive difference.

“This is one of those research projects that we hope will have a very clear path to translation, which means we go from research to reality in a relatively short space of time,” he said.

“If we can show that one of the interventions is really effective, then we can incorporate that into the treatment that we offer those seeking our help.”

The study will see Professor Stapelberg lead a multinational team including academics and researchers from Gold Coast Health’s Mental Health and Specialist Services, as well as the University of Rochester in the United States and the University of Bern in Switzerland.

Joining Professor Stapelberg as chief investigators on the project are three Gold Coast-based colleagues – Dr Kathryn Turner, Dr Sabine Woerwag-Mehta and Dr Sarah Walker. They will be joined by international experts, Associate Professor Anthony Pisani from the University of Rochester, and Emeritus Professor Konrad Michel, as well as Associate Investigator Dr Anja Gysin-Maillart, from the University of Bern.

The study will involve training health service staff to roll-out two new psychological interventions for people arriving at the hospital with a suicidal presentation.

On trial will be a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) intervention, alongside an Attempted Suicide Short Intervention Program (ASSIP).

CBT aims to help a person identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts and learn practical self-help strategies.

ASSIP therapy allows a person to tell the story of the suicide attempt and what led up to it, which is recorded on video. The person and their therapist sit together and watch the recording, providing an opportunity to jointly reflect and come to an understanding of the vulnerabilities and needs related to the person’s life-threatening crisis.

Individual long-term goals and strategies are then developed to be used in case of a future critical situation.

Results in the voluntary study will be compared to a third control group which will receive the health service’s standard Suicide Prevention Pathway.

SPA Chair Matthew Tukaki said suicide was a priority public health concern for all Australians.

“In 2017, 3218 people died by suicide; our loved ones, colleagues and peers,” he said.

“Australia’s preliminary standardised suicide rate is now about two points higher than the global average, at 12.6 deaths per 100,000 persons. We need to turn this around.

“Research and building the evidence base is key, but so too is innovation in our approach. These announcements are further proof of our commitment to ensure that Australians live long and healthy lives.”

SPA chief executive Nieves Murray said a better understanding of suicide was critical in order to prevent it.

“Suicide is so complex,” she said. “Why do people attempt or die by suicide? Why are some people more at risk than others? What crisis interventions work, and why? How can we help people to manage their suicide ideation over the long-term, so they can live full, productive lives?

“These are the types of questions we’re all asking.”

If you are experiencing problems, help is available at Lifeline on 131 114 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36.

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