Project aims to reveal youth suicide triggers
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.
Perth businessman Ronald Woss, who lost his daughter to suicide, is the chairman of Young Lives Matter.