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New research aims to tackle suicide in pregnant women

Suicide is the leading cause of maternal death for Australian women during pregnancy and a new research project is being funded to develop ways to help 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 $100,000 first-of-its kind study. The researchers will aim to understand the factors that lead to suicide in this group and help develop suicide prevention strategies for women during pregnancy and in the year after birth.

The study’s lead investigator, Dr Laura Biggs from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, said: “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.

“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.”

Professor Melanie Birks, head of nursing and midwifery at James Cook University and co-investigator on the project, said the involvement of women with experience of suicidality during pregnancy will be crucial to the 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,” Birks said.

One such woman is PANDA community champion volunteer Angela Hind, who experienced postnatal depression following the birth of her second child, with the illness prompting suicidal thoughts and plans.

“When you are in such a dark place, you feel like a burden on everyone,” she said. “I hope that this study can help women get the help they need. If sharing my experience can help just one other mum feel less alone, then that is fantastic."

Funded by the Federal Government’s Suicide Prevention Research Fund, the 12-month project will begin recruiting participants in early 2020, with the results leading to larger scale studies and pilot interventions.

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