A Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research (QCMHR) study has shown prevalence of suicidality in pregnant women and new mothers is almost twice as high than previously estimated.

Findings were drawn from Partners in Prevention, a landmark study that has developed a dataset of people across Queensland who are the subject of suicide-related calls to police and paramedics.

Within this dataset, researchers identified a group of women who were between 6 months preconception and 2 years postpartum at the time of a suicide-related contact with police or paramedics and examined the prevalence of suicidality, demographic characteristics, and timing of initial contact with first responders and health services.

QCMHR’s Dr Carla Meurk said the lack of evidence about pregnant women and new mothers experiencing suicide crises has meant that the needs of these women have been overlooked.

“To the best of our knowledge, this study is the first to examine suicidality among women across the preconception and postpartum phases in the context of responses by police and paramedics,” Dr Meurk said.

“Limited research to date has contributed to a lack of tailored, appropriate services for women to access and means that current suicide prevention pathways may not meet the needs of pregnant and postnatal women, their infants, and families.”

“Not only did we find the prevalence of suicidality to be almost twice as high as previous estimates for this group of women, but we found that they were younger, more likely to be of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander background, and more likely to live outside of a major city than other girls and women who were the subject of a suicide-related call to police or paramedics.”

“This new evidence has significant implications for the way we provide care in future.”

Given the enormous intergenerational impacts of suicidality during and around the time of pregnancy Dr Meurk said further research that includes the lived experiences of these women will be crucial to inform the future services landscape.

“Maternal mental health and well-being is an important contributor to infant development, and both current and future well-being of the child,” she said.

“The fact that we uncovered relatively high rates of pregnant women and new mothers experiencing suicide crisis highlights the need for further research to improve our understanding of circumstances placing women at risk and to enhance responses, including early intervention approaches that mitigate crises early.”

The study was published online on 2 June 2022 by the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry.

Partners in Prevention: Understanding and Enhancing First Responses to Suicide Crisis Situations was funded in 2017 by the Queensland Health Suicide Prevention Health Taskforce to address knowledge gaps about suicide crisis and inform systems enhancements.

Media contact: Dr Carla Meurk, c.meurk@qcmhr.uq.edu.au or Kate Gadenne, 0438 727 895.

Contacting us

Do you want to know more about QCMHR, but can’t quite get enough information from our website? Please get in touch – we are happy to help!

Find out more

Send us a message