New research targets hidden killer of Aussie women
University of Southern Queensland (USQ) researchers are undertaking a world-first reseach project to understand whether playing sport can protect menopausal women against mental health disorders.
Lead researcher Professor Andrea Lamont-Mills said team sport and group-based physical activity could provide a strong sense of connectedness and belonging, which were both key suicide protective factors.
“Despite what we think, young women are not the most at-risk age group for taking their own lives,” Professor Lamont-Mills said.
“It is midlife women aged 40-59 who are at the highest risk of suicide, which is also around the age when most women start to experience symptoms of menopause.
“So, 337 women took their own lives last year in the pre to post menopause age range.
“It’s estimated that for every person who has taken their own life approximately 30 people attempt to end their own lives, so in terms of attempts about 10,110 pre, peri or post menopausal women most likely made an attempt on their life.”
“While the prevalence of suicidality is higher in younger women, this includes thoughts, plans and attempts, death by suicide is highest in the menopausal age range with suicidality increasing for women in the 35-54 age ranges.”
Professor Lamont-Mills said this was the first research program to investigate the relationship between sport and suicidal behaviour with a focus on older women athletes, particularly menopausal women.
“There’s very little research that has actually looked at menopause and wellbeing,” she said.
“We are interested in how women’s mental health may be influenced by going through menopause and whether participation in sport may be psychologically beneficial for menopausal women.
“The outcomes from this research could be used to support the development of cost-effective, targeted sport programs for menopausal women which aim to reduce rates of suicide and depression.
“We need to start by better understanding why women aged 40-59 are more at risk of taking their own lives and whether menopause may play a part. Then look at whether sport can positively influence women’s feelings of social connectedness and mental health in this age group.”
USQ researchers are looking for women aged 35-65 to take part in the study by completing an online survey. Women who participate and do not participate in sport are needed.