Improving mental health support for young people who’ve suffered bereavement is the focus for Griffith University Masters of Suicidology graduate Karl Andriessen.

Named this week, as the winner of the Health Group Outstanding International Alumni Award, Mr Andriessen, a graduate of Griffith’s Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention (AISRAP), said he is ‘delighted’ with the recognition of his 30 year career in suicide prevention.

His current research with UNSW School of Psychiatry has revealed that when adolescents aged 12-18 experience the death of someone close to them, there can often be greater feelings of anger and injustice when compared to the same experience in an adult.

“We have found that young people in this age group have significantly different needs to an older population,” says Mr Andriessen. “They may often feel that it is very unjust that someone close to them has died and really struggle with these feelings.

“They may also be incredibly selective with who they share these feelings with, often choosing just one family member or friend to share with. This can be challenging for other family members and the risks of developing anxiety or other mental health issues can be acute.

“It’s important, therefore, that adolescents are taken seriously during this time and clinicians need to be open minded about the ways they deal with them.”

Griffith via distance learning

Now working as a social worker, Mr Andriessen graduated with his Griffith Masters qualification in 2006 via distance learning. He then returned to his native Belgium where he used what he had learnt to work with local mental health services and develop suicide prevention programs.

“It was during this stage of my career that I became interested in the differences between mental health in adults and adolescents,” says Mr Andriessen. “We realised that although there were different services in place for aspects such as intellectual health, mental health and family support, these services were not well integrated with each other.

“Considering the diverse range of problems that we see amongst young people today, we knew there was a need for increased sensitivity from clinicians in dealing with these issues.

“Fortunately in Australia, today, many of these issues are being addressed with an increased research focus on suicide prevention and improvements in clinical efforts to reach people across all levels of society.

“However, it is distressing to see that despite global efforts in suicide prevention – which have seen more interventions and support — we have still not made significant inroads into decreasing the mortality figures in this category.

“Something, unfortunately, is missing in our prevention policies that does not alleviate world-wide suicide rates. This is a very challenging issue.”