Parent Education for Responding to and Supporting Youth with Suicidal Thoughts (PERSYST): An Evaluation of an Online Gatekeeper Training Program with Australian Parents


Samuel McKay, Orygen & The University of Melbourne, Australia
Sadhbh Byrne, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
Alison Clarke, Orygen & The University of Melbourne, Australia
Michelle Lamblin, Orygen & The University of Melbourne, Australia
Maria Veresova, Orygen & The University of Melbourne, Australia
Jo Robinson, Orygen & The University of Melbourne, Australia


Suicide is a leading cause of death for young people aged 15–29 worldwide. Parents are well placed to observe suicide warning signs, monitor risk and provide support to young people, but they often lack the knowledge or skills to intervene when a young person experiences thoughts of suicide. A potential solution to this problem is to provide parents with gatekeeper training so as to equip them with the skills to recognise and respond to people experiencing thoughts of suicide. However, to date, little research has addressed the effectiveness of such training, especially using online delivery. The current study aimed to evaluate the efficacy and acceptability of delivering an online suicide prevention training program to improve the capacity of parents to support young people at risk of suicide.


In this study, 127 Australian parents of young people aged 12-25 completed the self-paced 90-minute online LivingWorks Start gatekeeper training and took part in the program evaluation. Participants completed questionnaires before, after, and 3-months after completing the training. Measures included perceived self-efficacy to engage in activities to prevent or assist their child in managing a suicidal crisis, formal and informal help seeking intentions for their child, suicide stigma, suicide literacy, history of suicidal ideation and behaviour, along with assessments of program acceptability, post-participation distress, and perceived barriers and facilitators for the research. Linear mixed-effects models were used to assess changes in each of the key outcome measures.


The parents demonstrated increases in perceived self-efficacy, formal help-seeking intentions, and reduced suicide stigma. The changes followed the intervention and were maintained at the three-month follow up, except for suicide stigma, which returned to the baseline three-months post training. Suicide literacy also increased during the study, but this change occurred at the three-month follow up, and thus may not be related to the program. No change in informal help-seeking intentions was found across the study.

Most of the participants reported that they enjoyed the training, would recommend it to others, and that it met or exceeded their expectations. Most did not find the training distressing. The parents said they chose to participate because they wanted to know more about the topic of suicide, because it was relevant to their child, or because of personal interest. The reported barriers to participation were time constraints, finding the topic difficult or uncomfortable, and confidentiality concerns. In combination, the findings suggest that online suicide prevention training for parents is potentially effective, acceptable, and meets parents’ needs.


This study provides preliminary evidence for the benefits of online gatekeeper training aimed at parents of young people. Such training may increase parents’ self-efficacy and help-seeking intentions for their children if they experience a suicidal crisis, while also reducing suicide stigma. The training was found to be acceptable and for most parents did not cause distress. However, further research using controlled trial designs are needed to confirm these findings. Nonetheless, the results suggest that online gatekeeper training for parent is a potentially important avenue for future youth suicide prevention work.

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