Improved hospital reporting of self-harm to reduce youth suicide

New Zealand has one of the highest child suicide rates in the world. With Cure Kids funding, Dr Sarah Fortune and her team aim to improve hospital surveillance of self-harm through a two-year pilot trial at Middlemore Hospital. It is hoped that this research will lead to informed intervention for at risk New Zealand children, and ultimately reduce rates of youth suicide.

Dr Sarah Fortune

University of Otago

New Zealand has one of the highest child suicide rates in the world. Around 10 children between the ages of 10 and 14 years die each year by suicide. Maori females are particularly vulnerable.

Collecting accurate data on self-harm is critical to better understand what’s causing New Zealand’s high child suicide rates.

Suicide ideation, attempting suicide and incidents of self-harm are relatively prevalent in the 10 to 14 age group, yet little is known about factors leading up to these events. What is known, however, is that those who present to hospital after self-harming are 50 times more likely to die by suicide. Collecting accurate data on self-harm is critical to better understand what’s causing New Zealand’s high child suicide rates.

Improving reporting of paediatric self-harm

Current reporting of self-harm incidences by New Zealand hospitals is insufficient, so health authorities don’t know the true extent of the issue. This situation has motivated psychologist Dr Sarah Fortune and her team to improve hospital surveillance of self-harm through a two-year pilot trial at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland. While Dr Fortune is usually based at the University of Otago, Middlemore was chosen for this pilot study because it’s in a region with high rates of youth self-harm.

Existing surveillance protocols will be strengthened with a monthly survey by paediatricians to report on self-harm within the under-15 age group. A raft of data will be collected, including time and day of presentation, age, method and prior history.

Similar data collection programmes in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Asia have informed interventions to ultimately reduce rates of youth suicide. Dr Fortune hopes that this Cure Kids-funded research will lead to similar interventions for at-risk New Zealand children.