Risk profile of young people admitted to hospital for suicidal behaviour in Melbourne, Australia

A 12-month study of adolescent admissions to the Royal Children’s Hospital mental health inpatient unit has found that an overwhelming majority of admissions (78% of the 427 admissions) were due to self-harm or suicidal behaviours. Young people admitted for this reason reported high rates of bullying, substance use, family trauma, poor sleep and mental health problems.

Led by researchers at the Centre for Adolescent Health, the study reports that of the 212 patients admitted due to suicidal behaviours:

  • 75% reported sleeping difficulties prior to admission;
  • 60% reported a history of bullying victimisation;
  • 53% experienced a history of family trauma;
  • 35% reported alcohol consumption; and
  • 34% reported illicit substance abuse.

These findings reinforce the importance of finding effective methods of identifying the risk processes underpinning suicidal behaviours, to reduce the unnecessary waste of young lives by suicide.

The publication is available here: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/jpc.13938

Listen to Dr Borschmann, lead author, discuss these findings during a recent interview with ABC radio:

Two additional studies from Australia (NSW and VIC), published in The Medical Journal of Australia, report similar findings around trends in Emergency Department presentations for self-harm, suicidal ideation, and intentional poisoning amongst adolescents. The number of adolescents presenting to EDs with mental health problems has sharply risen over recent years.

An editorial by the Centre directors, Professor Susan Sawyer and Professor George Patton contend that increases in suicidal behaviours reported by adolescents may be due to current mental health services failing to provide alternatives to emergency departments for adolescents in crisis. Improved quality of clinical services, smarter service linkages and greater focus on prevention is indicated. The editorial also acknowledges the need to ensure EDs have appropriately trained staff to respond to the dramatic increase in demand on emergency departments. It also highlighted the need to better understand the extent to which increasing presentations reflects increasing prevalence of mental health conditions.

Recently, the Federal Government announced the allocation of $125 million over the next ten years to the Million Minds Mental Health Research Mission. This aims to assist one million people experiencing mental health problems access new approaches to diagnosis, treatment and recovery. The initiative also seeks to support mental health researchers better translate research findings into patient benefits. Government initiatives, such as Million Minds, that focus on supporting mental health research and medical accessibility will be crucial to address the issues highlighted by recent studies.

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