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Groundbreaking Suicide Study

Science Update

A groundbreaking study will help researchers learn more about ways to treat people experiencing suicidal thoughts. Nearly 20,000 patients will be able to participate in a trial that draws from other successful interventions for depression and suicide. One of the treatments being tested was developed with the help of other patients.

Each year, over 9 million adults in the US experience serious suicidal thoughts and over one million attempt suicide (2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health ). Research in the NIMH-supported Mental Health Research Network found that outpatients who report frequent thoughts of death or self-harm on the commonly-used Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ9) are at higher risk for suicide attempt and death over the following year (Simon et al 2013).

A large practical trial, led by Dr. Greg Simon, researchers at Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, Washington, Health Partners Medical Group in Minnesota, and Kaiser Permanente of Colorado will test treatments intended to reach large groups of adult patients who have serious thoughts of suicide. Patients at risk will be identified and followed through medical records.

The research team will test two treatment programs: The first program, a care management approach, draws on two previous efforts, a collaborative care for depression strategy plus an approach developed at the Henry Ford Health System. The second program is an online skills training method called, “Now Matters Now,” which is designed to help people manage painful emotions and stressful situations.

To determine the impact of the two prevention strategies, these patients will be compared to another group of patients receiving care-as-usual. Researchers will track all patients for 18 months and monitor the amount of time before a first suicide attempt. The five-year study is designed to enroll 19,500 patients. In addition to its large scope and the significant problem that it will address, this study is ground breaking because the study design and intervention programs were developed in collaboration with people with “lived experience,” those who have experienced suicidal thoughts and/or survived suicide attempts themselves (Whiteside et al, 2014 ).

This study is funded through the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Common Fund’s Health Care Systems (HCS) Research Collaboratory Program, which engages health care systems as research partners in conducting large-scale clinical studies.

The NIH Common Fund supports a series of exceptionally high impact research programs that are broadly relevant to health and disease. Common Fund programs are designed to overcome major research barriers and pursue emerging opportunities for the benefit of the biomedical research community at large. The research products of Common Fund programs are expected to catalyze disease-specific research supported by the NIH Institutes and Centers. Additional information can be found at NIH Common Fund .