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UC-led research to help Lifeline help others

Claudia Doman

8 May 2018: The University of Canberra and Lifeline Australia have kicked off a five-year $3 million research partnership to gain valuable insights and knowledge to continue to improve the Australian crisis support service.

The research project, which has received a $1.1 million Partnership Program grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council and more than $2 million cash and in-kind support from stakeholders in the crisis service industry, will build on previous work to fine-tune its service delivery.

Led by University of Canberra Professor of Psychology Debra Rickwood, the project aims to add a reliable and ongoing set of outcome measures to the effectiveness of the organisation’s services in order to maximise their impact in the community and ensure a continuous quality improvement for users.

Lifeline, Australia’s only national 24-hour crisis service and a central component of the mental health and social care systems in the country, is relied upon as the out-of-hours community ‘safety net’ by more than one million Australians each year.

Professor Rickwood said the multidisciplinary team will look at users’ expectations, innovative approaches, and outcomes for Lifeline and other services which are frequently accessed by people who require crisis support and help in suicide prevention.

“Given the increasingly widespread reliance on Lifeline for universally accessible and free support for people in emotional crisis and those who are suicidal, our research will look into identifying the types of help-seekers that such crisis services are expected to support, and the outcomes expected to be achieved,” Professor Rickwood said.

“We want to better understand, who is seeking help, if the responses are adequate or helpful, and what do the callers expect to achieve when calling these services.

“Lifeline has also moved into the digital age, offering crisis support via online chat and text messaging, so it is timely that expectations and outcomes from these new modalities are explored.

“It is a very exciting opportunity to be part of such a critical and innovative research project, working with an outstanding team of researchers and in strong partnership with Lifeline.

“We hope this research will enable the Lifeline practice model to evolve to best meet the needs of the Australian community.”  

Lifeline Executive Director Research and Strategy Alan Woodward said the national charity is very excited to partner with such a high-calibre research team to gather quality evidence that can then be translated into ‘real services’.

“Lifeline has become part of our society’s fabric and we look forward to continue to evolve through new technologies and innovative ways to meet the needs of those most at risk in the best possible way,” Mr Woodward said.

"By improving and modernising the way that we manage the roughly one million contacts we receive in average each year, we have an opportunity to better support people more quickly and, ultimately, save more lives."

University of Canberra Professor of Affective Computing Roland Goecke will play a role in the research, focusing on the design of automated artificial intelligence algorithms to identify different types of help-seekers and their outcomes.

Other organisations working with the University of Canberra and Lifeline in this project are Columbia University (New York), the Australian National University, Federation University Australia, Griffith University, Macquarie University, University of Melbourne and the University of New South Wales.