A study funded by Australian Rotary Health has highlighted the importance of targeting youth for suicide cluster prevention, after it was found suicides in young people were three times more likely to occur in a cluster than suicides by adults.

Lead researcher and ARH Mental Health Research Grant recipient Associate Professor Matthew Spittal from the University of Melbourne, looked at national data on all suicides in Australia between 2010 and 2012, to identify whether any fatal suicide clusters had occurred among young people under 25 years of age, and compared it to suicide clusters among adults.

“We identified 5 suicide clusters among young people. These clusters comprised of 53 deaths and represented nearly 6% of all suicides among young people. We also identified 7 clusters among adults, which represented 137 deaths and just over 2% of all adult suicides,” Associate Professor Spittal said.

“The key message from this study is that suicides by young people were over 3 times more likely to occur in a cluster than suicides by adults, highlighting the importance of targeting young for cluster prevention.”

Associate Professor Spittal and his team also looked at data from NSW and WA over a 12 year period.

From the NSW data, they found that it was possible to predict the location of future clusters 36% of the time, but noted this figure was too low to be useful in delivering interventions.

“Using information on clusters in an area in one period to predict clusters in a later period is probably not reliable enough to be used to overcome the problem. Other strategies are needed, such as using ambulance data to detect clusters.”

From the WA data, they were able to identify a number of area level factors that were associated with a given attempt being within a non-fatal cluster.

“These were living in an area of low socioeconomic status, living in an area where a high proportion of people change their address regularly and living in an area with a high proportion of Indigenous people.”

In some additional studies, the research team looked at identifying suicide ‘hotspots’ on the Victorian rail network.

“We identified 4 clusters that accounted for 30% of all rail suicides in Melbourne. Young people were no more likely to die in a rail suicide cluster than adults.”

“We had a number of meetings with rail operators and regulators and they have used this information to inform prevention efforts, such as locations where fencing would be beneficial.”

This research was a world first in looking at predicting suicide clusters and Associate Professor Spittal says it has definitively ruled out using past clusters to predict future clusters.

“Suicide clusters have a significant negative impact on the communities in which they occur. As a result it is important to find effective ways of managing and containing suicide clusters. To date there is limited evidence for the effectiveness of those strategies typically employed, in particular in Indigenous settings, and developing this evidence base needs to be a future priority,” he said.

 

5 papers from this these studies have been published in peer-reviewed journals. Read them below:

Cluster Suicides Among Unemployed Persons in Australia Over the Period 2001–2013

Spatial suicide clusters in Australia between 2010 and 2012: a comparison of cluster and non-cluster among young people and adults

Clusters of suicides and suicide attempts: detection, proximity and correlates

Railway suicide clusters: how common are they and what predicts them?

Clusters of Suicidal Events Among Young People: Do Clusters from One Time Period Predict Later Clusters?

 

Media contact: Jessica Cooper – (02) 8837 1900 or jessica@arh.org.au

 

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