Suicide prevention grant for the Sax Institute
Sax Institute photography 29102016.

An international research collaboration which includes the Sax Institute’s Decision Analytics team has been awarded a substantial grant from the National Suicide Prevention Research Fund (managed by Suicide Prevention Australia) to look at the relationship between social media and suicide clusters.

Relatively little work has been done on suicide clusters, which are thought to account for 3% of all suicides, and our understanding of how they are triggered and perpetuated is limited. This innovative project – for which the Decision Analytics team will provide dynamic systems modelling expertise – will not only look at the role social media plays in suicide clusters, it will also test the potential effects of a preventive intervention.

Associate Professor Jo-An Atkinson

The researchers will firstly explore how social media impacts on the emergence of suicide clusters through a case-control study, and then use findings from that study to provide input parameters for a computer simulation model of suicidal behaviour. The potential effects of a social media intervention will then be tested in this simulated environment. This approach not only saves time and resources, it also reduces the risks inherent in implementing new interventions in real populations.

The research collaboration will share in $2.3 million in new funding that the National Suicide Prevention Research Fund has allocated to four new suicide prevention projects. It will be led by Professor Jane Pirkis of the University of Melbourne and will involve teams from institutions in Australia, the United States, Canada and Austria.

Associate Professor Jo-An Atkinson, Director of the Sax Institute’s Decision Analytics team, says the suicide cluster project and its use of dynamic systems modelling is a good example of the way population health research is changing.

“The research community is starting to realise that traditional analytic methods can only take us part of the way towards understanding and effectively addressing our more complex and persistent health and social problems,” she says.

Associate Professor Atkinson says future advances and breakthroughs will come from integrating traditional epidemiological research with computer science, data science and the dynamic modelling techniques of systems science.

“Bringing together transdisciplinary teams such as this not only represents a significant advance in the study of suicidal behaviour but is a model for the future of research and scientific progress,” she adds.

The three other projects newly funded by Suicide Prevention Australia will look at preventing self-poisoning; improving the detection and referral of university students at risk of suicide; and the effectiveness of physiological interventions.

Read more about new funding for suicide prevention research here.

Read more about the work of our Decision Analytics team here.