Which Social, Economic, and Health Sector Strategies Will Deliver the Greatest Impacts for Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention? Protocol for an Advanced, Systems Modelling Approach

26 November 2021

Background: Current global challenges are generating extensive social disruption and uncertainty that have the potential to undermine the mental health, wellbeing, and futures of young people. The scale and complexity of challenges call for engagement with systems science-based decision analytic tools that can capture the dynamics and interrelationships between physical, social, economic, and health systems, and support effective national and regional responses. At the outset of the pandemic mental health-related systems models were developed for the Australian context, however, the extent to which findings are generalisable across diverse regions remains unknown. This study aims to explore the context dependency of systems modelling insights. Methods: This study will employ a comparative case study design, applying participatory system dynamics modelling across eight diverse regions of Australia to answer three primary research questions: (i) Will current regional differences in key youth mental health outcomes be exacerbated in forward projections due to the social and economic impacts of COVID-19?; (ii) What combination of social policies and health system strengthening initiatives will deliver the greatest impacts within each region?; (iii) To what extent are optimal strategic responses consistent across the diverse regions? We provide a detailed technical blueprint as a potential springboard for more timely construction and deployment of systems models in international contexts to facilitate a broader examination of the question of generalisability and inform investments in the mental health and wellbeing of young people in the post COVID-19 recovery. Discussion: Computer simulation is known as the third pillar of science (after theory and experiment). Simulation allows researchers and decision makers to move beyond what can be manipulated within the scale, time, and ethical limits of the experimental approach. Such learning when achieved collectively, has the potential to enhance regional self-determination, help move beyond incremental adjustments to the status quo, and catalyze transformational change. This research seeks to advance efforts to establish regional decision support infrastructure and empower communities to effectively respond. In addition, this research seeks to move towards an understanding of the extent to which systems modelling insights may be relevant to the global mental health response by encouraging researchers to use, challenge, and advance the existing work for scientific and societal progress.