Excellence in mental health research for men
Published: 4 December, 2017
Associate Professor Judy Proudfoot discusses the male suicide rate in Australia with the NHMRC and how Centres for Research Excellence are enabling the development of key suicide prevention strategies and tools.
Black Dog Institute researcher, Associate Professor Judy Proudfoot, is working with experts in Australia and New Zealand to understand the complex pathways that result in suicide, improve risk detection, determine the best way to deliver interventions and to prioritise government programs and services.
One focus of Assoc. Professor Proudfoot's research has been suicide prevention in men. The suicide rate among Australian men is three times greater than that for women, reaching a peak in 2015 of 19.3 deaths per 100,000 men (ABS, Causes of Death 2016).
NHMRC Centre for Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention (CRESP) jointly funded with beyondblue and the Movember Foundation has conducted two studies targeting men’s mental health and suicide prevention to develop key tools and strategies in an effort to reduce the suicide rates and improve mental health in men.
‘Men are less likely to seek professional help when they are depressed or stressed and they can resort to unhelpful coping strategies such as drug and alcohol abuse, withdrawing socially, gambling and overwork,’ Assoc. Professor Proudfoot explained.
‘Warning signs of suicide risk described by our study participants were anger and irritability, sleep problems, loss of interest in people and things, isolating themselves and not taking care of themselves.
‘Together, the two studies provided valuable information about the early warning signs of suicidal thinking, methods to interrupt such thinking and strategies men have found useful to prevent and manage depression.’
The research led to the development of an online module for men called Man Central which can be accessed via the Black Dog Institute’s online psychological treatment program for mild-to-moderate depression, stress and anxiety, 'MyCompass'.
‘Man Central incorporates the techniques described by the men in our research to prevent and manage mental health issues. The online format is advantageous, in that it allows men to use it anonymously, privately and at any time of the day or night,’ A/Professor Proudfoot said.
‘To prevent depression, men recommended having a balanced and regular routine involving keeping physically healthy, engaging in enjoyable activities, maintaining social connections and setting goals which can be achieved. For managing depression, helpful coping strategies included exercise and healthy eating, taking time out, rewarding yourself, distracting from negative thoughts/feelings, talking to a trusted person, and reframing thoughts and feelings.
‘Ways to interrupt suicidal thinking included reminding men how much they are loved, gently helping them to think about the consequences of suicide, listening without judgement and if possible, organising a physical activity ‘to break the spiral of thought’.’
Researchers at Black Dog Institute have developed LifeSpan – a new systems approach that aims to have a significant impact on suicide rates as part of Australia’s largest scientific suicide prevention trial. The LifeSpan team is providing implementation support and advice to 12 sites as part of the National Suicide Prevention trials.
‘Through LifeSpan, for the first time, government health agencies will be formally connected to councils, schools, emergency services, workplaces and individuals with lived experiences in communities across Australia,’ Scientia Professor Helen Christensen, lead investigator for the Centre for Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention (CRESP) and Director and Chief Scientist at Black Dog Institute, wrote.
‘Evidence-based suicide prevention programs will be integrated into real community settings—looking at the needs and resources available.
‘Researchers will collect and analyse data in real time, guiding tailored improvements and enabling prioritisation of high-risk locations and populations.’
NHMRC’s Centres of Research Excellence (CRE) aim to improve health outcomes and promote translation of research outcomes into policy and/or practice. They provide support for teams of researchers to pursue collaborative research and develop capacity.