A collaborative project between researchers at The University of Western Australia and Perth Clinic could lower rates of self-harm and suicide in mental health in-patients, potentially saving more than 600 lives every year.
Project leader UWA Professor of Psychology Andrew Page, said an Australian Research Council Linkage grant of $177,000 over six years would enable the group to further develop their mental health ‘thermometer'. Professor 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 Professor 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-screens. The questionnaire takes moments to complete and measures symptoms such as anxiety and depression; and 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.
Moira Munro, Perth Clinic's CEO, said that "Perth Clinic sees the project as an important step in ensuring that the hospital continues to deliver the highest quality care and will assist the health care sector identifying and preventing adverse outcomes."
"Most patients come into the hospital unwell and leave within two weeks very much improved," Professor Page said. "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."