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29 Nov 2019

A $100,000 research project will help build understanding of the factors contributing to suicide attempts in pregnant women and new mums. The research aims to develop effective ways to assess and manage suicidal risk in this vulnerable group.

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, James Cook University, and service provider and consumer advocacy group, Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia (PANDA) will collaborate on the study.

Suicide is the leading cause of maternal death in Australia during pregnancy and the 12 months following birth. This is despite the fact that women in this period have regular contact with care providers including midwives, GPs, obstetricians, and maternal health nurses.

The first-of-its-kind study aims to explore and explain women’s experiences of suicidality during pregnancy and the year following birth, a time known as the perinatal period, with the ultimate aims of:

  • Understanding factors that may contribute to suicide at this time in women’s lives;
  • Identifying factors protective against suicidal behaviours; and
  • Informing suicide prevention strategies for women during pregnancy and the year after birth

“In order to identify and introduce effective suicide prevention measures for expecting and new mums, we need to build a better understanding of this phenomenon,” said the study’s lead investigator, Dr Laura Biggs from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute.

“Very little is known about women’s experiences of suicidality during pregnancy and the first year following birth. What we do know is that suicide is the leading cause of maternal death in Australia, and that women’s suicidal behaviour has unique characteristics around this time.

“Given this uniqueness, we need to better understand factors that may contribute to and prevent suicide in the perinatal period. Our study aims to develop a model that explains suicidality during pregnancy and the year following birth. We can then use these findings to help us care for and support women and their families impacted by suicidality.”

Professor Melanie Birks of James Cook University and co-investigator on the project, said the involvement of women with lived experience of suicidality during this potentially vulnerable time is crucial to the success of this project.
“The knowledge that is gained from this study will inform health professional education and practice, increasing the likelihood that suicidality in the perinatal period can be identified and effectively managed,” Prof Birks said.

The research results will be directly translatable, changing clinical practice to improve outcomes for this at-risk group.

The 12-month project will begin recruiting participants in early 2020, with the results leading to larger scale studies and pilot interventions.


Published: 29 Nov 2019