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New Grant Aims to Reduce Rate of College Suicide by Helping Students Better Adjust

Science Update

A new grant funded by NIMH will test an intervention designed to prevent or reduce suicide among college students.

Suicidal thinking and behavior among college students can result from a wide variety of problems including drug and alcohol abuse, mood disorders, problems in social relationships and physical health problems. Some research has suggested that a tendency to avoid unwanted emotions and negative thoughts can contribute to the problems that lead to suicide. Yet many college students who die by suicide never seek help within their institutions.

Steven Hayes, Ph.D. and Jacqueline Pistorello, Ph.D., of the University of Nevada Reno, will test an intervention called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which is based on the notion that acceptance and awareness of difficult emotions can help students reduce avoidance behavior and improve their psychological flexibility, which may reduce the frequency of problems that often precede suicide attempts. About 720 college freshmen will be randomized to receive either ACT or a brief educational course on adjusting to the challenges of college life.

For up to three years, the students will be assessed on a range of psychological, behavioral, health and academic aspects that are known to be associated with suicidal thinking and behavior, including self-injury and risky behaviors. If found to be successful in reducing suicide attempts and thinking, ACT could be readily disseminated within the college experience, and may be incorporated into a classroom-based approach that could have broad public health implications, according to the researchers.