Project aims to reveal youth sui­cide trig­gers

The West Australian - - NEWS - Rhi­anna Mitchell

A world-first “vul­ner­a­bil­ity index” to pre­dict the risk of sui­ci­dal be­hav­iour in young peo­ple is at the heart of a new foun­da­tion to be launched at the Univer­sity of WA to­day.

The Young Lives Mat­ter Foun­da­tion will bring to­gether med­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als, data an­a­lysts, math­e­ma­ti­cians and men­tal health ex­perts to iden­tify trends and trig­ger points for youth sui­cide, with the aim of iden­ti­fy­ing at-risk chil­dren be­fore they reach cri­sis point.

The foun­da­tion is the brain­child of UWA Vice-Chan­cel­lor Dawn Fresh­wa­ter.

Pro­fes­sor Fresh­wa­ter, a pro­fes­sor of men­tal health, said data anal­y­sis and mod­el­ling would be used to cre­ate a world­wide risk index to pre­dict po­ten­tial sui­ci­dal be­hav­iour from a very early age.

“When I came to WA what struck me was there were many foun­da­tions and char­i­ties and groups in­volved in at­tempt­ing to ad­dress what is a very crit­i­cal is­sue,” she said. “It be­came ob­vi­ous to me there was an op­por­tu­nity to bring dif­fer­ent groups to­gether.”

Perth busi­ness­man and phi­lan­thropist Ronald Woss is the foun­da­tion’s chair­man.

Mr Woss co-founded Youth Fo­cus, which sup­ports chil­dren and fam­i­lies deal­ing with de­pres­sion and sui­ci­dal thoughts, af­ter his 17-year-old daugh­ter Me­lanie took her own life in 1989.

“I would re­gard (Young Lives Mat­ter) as the sin­gle most ex­cit­ing chal­lenge I’ve set my­self since my daugh­ter died,” he said. “If we can iden­tify that chil­dren are likely to have these prob­lems, let’s deal with them at the ear­li­est stage pos­si­ble, and give them a shield to al­low them to be able to cope be­fore it be­comes a cri­sis.”

Health Min­is­ter Roger Cook has al­lowed the foun­da­tion ac­cess to the coro­nial data­base of youth sui­cide cases to as­sist with their re­search. Data from the Raine and Bus­sel­ton health stud­ies would also be an­a­lysed.

Mr Woss be­lieved the foun­da­tion had the po­ten­tial to do for youth sui­cide what vac­cine de­vel­oper Dr Jonas Salk did for po­lio. “If we can do this, what a difference it will make, not just to kids in WA but even­tu­ally, if we’re suc­cess­ful, for ev­ery­one,” he said. At to­day’s launch Mr Woss will give an in­sight into the de­spair felt by par­ents who lose chil­dren to sui­cide.

“Try to imag­ine the most gut wrench­ing, un­bear­able, ut­ter feel­ing of de­spair and help­less­ness you have ever known and then mul­ti­ply that, by say 100,” he will say.

He will also share an ex­cerpt from his daugh­ter’s diaries which he and his wife later pub­lished as a book, Me­lanie.

Pro­fes­sor Sean Hood, head of psy­chi­a­try at UWA, Hol­ly­wood Pri­vate Hos­pi­tal chief ex­ec­u­tive Peter Mott and Ron Ed­wards, co-founder of the Polly Farmer Foun­da­tion and a Youth Fo­cus board mem­ber, are also in­volved in the foun­da­tion, which will be launched by Foreign Min­is­ter Julie Bishop.

Picture: Ian Munro

Perth busi­ness­man Ronald Woss, who lost his daugh­ter to sui­cide, is the chair­man of Young Lives Mat­ter.

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