Digital intervention to be trialled to reduce suicide-related behaviours in young Australians

Digital intervention to be trialled to reduce suicide-related behaviours in young Australians

20 June 2021

An online intervention developed by Orygen researchers will be trialled for its effectiveness in reducing suicide-related behaviours in young Australians diagnosed with major depressive disorder following a funding announcement made today by Australia’s Minister for Health Greg Hunt.

Existing programs aimed at reducing suicidal ideation in young people often don’t deliver lasting benefits in helping young people stay well.

The Orygen intervention, called Affinity, is a social networking platform moderated by mental health clinicians and provides young people and their care-givers with therapeutic content that directly targets known drivers of suicidal ideation. Affinity has been designed in partnership with young people.

The funding for the clinical trial has been awarded through the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Clinical Trials and Cohort Studies Grants scheme.

Orygen’s Associate Professor Simon Rice, who is leading the clinical trial, said it would aim to uncover whether Affinity is effective in reducing suicidal thoughts and behaviours in young people, relative to a control program. “Affinity addresses limitations of past programs by allowing 24/7 access to digital therapy, alongside therapist and peer support,” he said.

Associate Professor Rice said suicide was the most common cause of death in Australians aged 15-24, and optimising treatment for major depressive disorder was essential for addressing the growing youth suicide rate. “Major depressive disorder is a key risk factor for young people thinking about, and dying, by suicide,” he said.

“When using Affinity young people with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder are provided with structured opportunities to form meaningful online and offline connections, and specialist resources are made accessible to the young people’s family or caregivers, which strengthens the support the young people receive,” Associate Professor Rice said. “Some of the mechanisms that drive suicidal thinking and behaviour are young people’s self-criticism, perceptions of being a burden, and feelings of not belonging – elements of Affinity target these mechanisms, serving to reduce suicide risk.”

Professor Mario Alvarez-Jimenez, who led the development of the MOST platform on which Affinity is based, said Affinity provided peer support to young people and care givers while simultaneously leveraging therapeutic comics and social networking in a safe and supportive digital community. “Our pilot data show all of these approaches activate key psychosocial treatment mechanisms, reducing suicidal thoughts and behaviours,” he said.

“The MOST platform delivers young people with access to tailored online therapy, clinician and peer support, when and where they need it, and is fully integrated with the face-to-face clinical care a young person is receiving,” Professor Alvarez-Jimenez said.

“The Affinity trial is the seventh world-first clinical trial of the MOST platform, which demonstrates our commitment to developing innovative, evidence-based digital interventions for young people, irrespective of how complex their mental health difficulties,” he said. “We won’t leave any young person behind in the digital transformation and enhancement of mental health services.”

MOST is currently in 34 Victorian youth mental health services, with 13 more to come online by July 2021. The platform will also soon be introduced to services in the Australian Capital Territory.