Potential to reduce youth suicide in rural Australia through the Preventure program

Posted 28th November 2023 in Sector news

Suicide is the leading cause of death among young people aged 15-24 years. Targeted programs that support young people to understand themselves better and prevent risky ways of coping have the potential to prevent suicide in young people.

Julia Boyle, PhD Candidate and Research Assistant at The Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use, shared some insights into The Matilda Centre’s rural adaptation of the Preventure program, which aims to improve access to suicide prevention for rural youth by partnering with communities to adapt the existing evidence-based Preventure program.

Preventure is a personality-targeted and selective substance use prevention program. It targets four personality traits associated with an increased risk of poor mental health and substance misuse:

  1. Negative thinking (hopelessness)
  2. Anxiety sensitivity
  3. Sensation seeking
  4. Impulsivity.

Julia explained the Preventure program was not originally designed as a suicide prevention program, but researchers have found that it can reduce thoughts of suicide among metropolitan-based Australian youth.

The Preventure program was developed to address substance use in youth by focusing on personality risk factors for substance use, and the common patterns of thinking and responding related to these traits. Personality traits such as impulsivity and hopelessness are associated with substance use and suicide risk, where risk is influenced by a complex interplay between biological, social, environmental, and other psychological factors.

The program helps young people to reduce risky ways of coping, such as substance use and withdrawing from others, which are likely to have contributed to a decrease in thoughts of suicide.

The Preventure Australia research team at The Matilda Centre seeks to understand if the Preventure program can work in rural communities to prevent substance use and suicide in young people.

Julia explained that to know how to best support rural communities, we need to ask rural communities about what is required, acknowledging that one-size-fits-all approaches do not work, and that programs need to be adaptable.

The research team hopes to understand if Preventure is suitable for the rural context and how it can be adapted to increase its relevance and smooth implementation bumps along the way.

With funding from NSW Health, the research team will visit each rural and regional Local Health District (LHD) in New South Wales and work with communities to conduct a series of consultations and adjust the implementation of the program to suit each local community based on consultation findings.

This is the first time the Preventure program will be adapted for rural Australian youth. By centring the voices of rural youth, the project hopes to move towards reducing rates of youth suicide in a rural setting.

Consultations will be held in early 2024 and researchers are now seeking expressions of interest for community partners.

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