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Title: Exploring Hidden Worlds: Rural Australian Young People Who Lose a Friend to Suicide
Contributor(s): Bartik, Warren  (author)orcid ; Maple, Myfanwy  (supervisor)orcid ; McKay, Kathryn  (supervisor)
Conferred Date: 2015-10-24
Copyright Date: 2014-10
Open Access: Yes
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Suicide is the leading cause of death of young Australians, with rural young people at higher risk. Increasing research has investigated the bereavement experience of people who lose someone close to suicide. However, rural young friends have remained hidden from the research literature and, as such, their grief and experiences are not well understood.

This study provides empirical data from bereavement experiences of young rural people who had lost a close friend to suicide, and continued to live in their rural town where the death occurred. Semi-structured interviews were held with 18 participants, aged between 14 and 23 years, from four different locations in rural Australia. They completed six standardised questionnaires that rated symptoms for depression, anxiety, prolonged grief, coping skills, posttraumatic growth, and stigma, along with questions about their general health and alcohol use. The interview data was analysed to derive narrative themes. The first theme comprised communication about the death and included social media, schools, and rumours. The second theme was the response to the death and how stigma manifests in rural communities.

The third theme was how participants coped after the death, and the ways in which this impacted them. The participants rated significant symptoms of depression, anxiety and prolonged grief, and they consumed alcohol at harmful levels. They were also more inclined to stigmatise and glorify suicide. The study findings highlight that rural young people bereaved by a friend’s suicide are at risk of a number of health issues, and these can continue for a number of years after the death. Close friends were not found to be at immediate risk of suicide because of the protective effect of peer-monitoring that results from exposure to the impact of the suicide on family and others. Peripherally related peers were excluded from this protection and potentially at greater risk of suicide contagion.

Recommendations include school postvention guidelines to consider risks for all students, not just those considered close friends. Social media should also be more proactive in response to suicide. Finally, improved mental health literacy must include a discourse about suicide to address the stigma prevalent in rural communities. Recommendations for future research are also canvassed.

Publication Type: Thesis Doctoral
Fields of Research (FoR) 2008: 111714 Mental Health
170106 Health, Clinical and Counselling Psychology
Fields of Research (FoR) 2020: 520304 Health psychology
Socio-Economic Objective (SEO) 2008: 920506 Rural Health
920410 Mental Health
920209 Mental Health Services
Socio-Economic Objective (SEO) 2020: 200508 Rural and remote area health
200409 Mental health
200305 Mental health services
HERDC Category Description: T2 Thesis - Doctorate by Research
Appears in Collections:School of Health
Thesis Doctoral

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