The Hugo Charitable Trust commits funding to child and youth suicide prevention study

30 November 2019   

The Hugo Charitable Trust commits funding to child and youth suicide prevention study

Cure Kids is pleased to announce that $155,800 of funding has been donated by the Hugo Charitable Trust to support University of Otago clinical psychologist Dr Sarah Fortune’s child and adolescent self-harm surveillance and suicide prevention research.

Dr Fortune’s primary research project – the Aotearoa Self-Harm Hospital Study: sentinel surveillance of paediatric self-harm in New Zealand – received initial funding of $107,000 from Cure Kids and launched in May this year. This is a New Zealand-first study and is piloting a surveillance system of hospital-presenting cases of self-harm among those under 15 years at Middlemore Hospital.

The Hugo Charitable Trust’s (Hugo) additional funding support of $155,800 is greatly boosting the initial project; enabling the development of a “real time” warning system for unexpected increases in self-harm presentations – a new and innovative area of work which will allow hospitals nationally to identify local spikes in presentations and rapidly respond with appropriate services. Hugo’s funding will also ensure the inclusion of Southland Hospital into the study, and critically, provide a full-time postdoctoral fellow appointment to assist Dr Fortune with this project. The Fellow will be mentored under Dr Fortune’s supervision, introduced to her local and international networks, thereby creating a sustainable legacy of workforce development with local and national suicide prevention expertise.

Cure Kids CEO Frances Benge says “We are thrilled that our partnership with the Hugo Charitable Trust will enable significant, concurrent expansion of Dr Fortune’s work. Despite high public interest, little progress has been made in reducing suicide, particularly due to lack of good quality data to inform interventions. Together, Cure Kids and Hugo can make a real impact on the future of our at-risk tamariki through the provision of robust epidemiological data on who self-harms, and which interventions are most likely to reduce suicide deaths for children.”

Self-harm hospital presentation and suicide in New Zealand’s young people

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of youth suicide in the world. In addition, around 10 children aged 10 – 14 years die by suicide in New Zealand each year, and Māori females are particularly vulnerable.

Hospital presentation for self-harm is one of the strongest predictors of death by suicide, so a comprehensive understanding of this high-risk population is essential for suicide prevention.

One startling fact with important implications for prevention is that children and adolescents who attend hospital following an act of self-harm are fifty times more likely to die by suicide. This information is crucial to informing suicide prevention interventions. Further, one in four will re-present with a further episode of self-harm within six months. Self-harm is defined as any form of intentional self-poisoning or self-injury regardless of motivation or the degree of intention to die.

Dr Fortune’s study includes a collaboration with the New Zealand Paediatric Surveillance Unit, a system of national surveillance through a reporting card or email sent to all practicing New Zealand paediatricians (92 percent of registered paediatricians) on a monthly basis. Self-harm in children younger than 15 years of age will be included in the monthly card/email over this period. This will ensure coverage of a range of regional hospitals.

Dr Fortune says “Suicide is tragic because it is preventable. Despite increasing public interest in prevention, almost no progress has been made in reducing the persistently high and growing suicide rate in New Zealand.

Current data reporting practices in New Zealand undercount self-harm presentations by 50 to 60 percent. Children and adolescents under 15 years who harm themselves are at particularly increased risk of suicide but prevention activities have focused on older age groups.”

The Hugo Charitable Trust

Maryanne Green founded the Hugo Charitable Trust (Hugo) in 2017. Maryanne is the eldest daughter of Irish philanthropist and businessman, the late Hugh Green, known in Ireland as Hugo. Hugo continues the endowment of Hugh’s philanthropic legacy, investing in the relief of poverty, the advancement of family, social and community welfare, and the care and support of the disadvantaged or marginalised. Hugo has made significant donations to medical research as well as to many education initiatives.