Contributors to Thoughts of Suicide in Young Australians

When statistics show that more than eight people die by suicide in Australia each day and around 65,300 attempt suicide each year, research into how to prevent suicide is more critical than ever.

Australian Rotary Health has awarded funding to researchers across the country who have a passion for learning more about suicide and how to best support people who are suicidal.

Dr Tonelle Handley from the University of New South Wales is one of these researchers and was awarded the Geoffrey Betts Postdoctoral Fellowship from 2014-2016 to look at contributors to thoughts of suicide across diverse groups, with a particular focus on young Australians.

These groups included those with mental health problems, drug and alcohol problems, chronic physical illness, and those living in rural and remote parts of Australia.

“One thing that surprised me is that across all these different groups, a lot of the risk and protective factors were the same,” Dr Handley said.

One finding that came up a lot in Dr Handley’s research was how important it is to have social support when going through mental health problems.

“Having strong social networks and people you can turn to when things are going badly is important for everyone, but my research findings suggest that this may be even more important for younger people.”

“Young people who felt that they had good social networks were less likely to report things like psychological distress and thoughts of suicide.”

However, these findings were not related to the number of friends or family members these people had, but rather about the quality of those relationships.

Another strong protective factor against poor mental health for young people was employment.

“This wasn’t related to income or financial factors but seems to be more to do with providing a sense of purpose for young people. Again, this effect was much stronger for younger people than for people in older age groups,” Dr Handley said.

These research findings are just the beginning, as Dr Handley’s focus is on long-term, whole of community studies that try to identify risk and protective factors on a large scale.

“We often follow the same people for years and look at how their mental health changes over time, and the things that contribute to that change.”

“Being able to work with local communities and help them to identify their own strengths really goes a long way to developing sustainable strategies to improve the mental health of their young people.”


More information about Dr Handley’s work can be found in the following published journal articles:










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Media contact: Jessica Cooper – (02) 8837 1900 or

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