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Wellbeing thermometer to save lives

Preventing adverse outcomes in psychiatric patients could be a touch away.

More than 600 lives could be saved a year under a new tool that “measures” mental health.

With the aim of lowering rates of self-harm and suicide in mental health in-patients, a collaborative project between researchers at The University of Western Australia and Perth Clinic has received an Australian Research Council Linkage grant of $177,000 over six years would enable the group to further develop their mental health thermometer.

Project leader UWA Professor of Psychology Andrew Page is working with Geoff Hooke at Perth Clinic, a 98-bed inpatient hospital in West Perth treating people with mental health problems.

The “thermometer” aims to enable mental health care workers in hospitals to easily and quickly assess patients’ wellbeing and symptoms every day during hospitalisation and to identify patients who could be at risk of adverse outcomes, such as self-harm.

Just as the thermometer in physical medicine gives a quick assessment of physical health, so the tool developed by Page and his team is an appropriate measurement of mental health.

Perth Clinic’s development of the thermometer began about four years ago with funding from HBF and Medibank Private.  It is the first instrument of its kind to monitor in-patients.

Patients answer a 10-item questionnaire on touch screen computers positioned throughout the hospital. The questionnaire, which takes just moments to complete, measures symptoms such as anxiety and depression. It also measures a sense of wellbeing which includes optimism and feelings of being refreshed and invigorated.

The patients’ answers are monitored by staff who can immediately identify patients whose recovery is on track and those whose recovery is not.

It will assist the health care sector identifying and preventing adverse outcomes, says Page.

“Most patients come into the hospital unwell and leave within two weeks very much improved,” Page says.

“We are interested in the small group who don’t show these rapid gains.  This project is looking at how feedback works so we can make it more effective for this group and reduce self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

“An estimated 660,000 Australians are admitted to psychiatric hospitals every year.  Of these an estimated 99,000 may be worse off after treatment. We know that monitoring can halve that rate.

“And if this project can halve the deterioration rate again, then almost 25,000 patients would benefit, representing a saving of more than $19 million a year in hospital re-admissions. If this project is able to predict and then reduce the suicide rate by as little as 10 per cent, then more than 600 lives will be saved every year.”

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