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NIMH Leadership Describes Suicide Prevention Research Priorities

Institute Update

The suicide rate in the U.S. has been steadily increasing over the past 2 decades. In 2018 alone, more than 48,000 Americans died by suicide. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is committed to bending the curve of suicide in the U.S., and together with the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, NIMH pledged to reduce the suicide rate by 20% by 2025.

This commitment has shaped NIMH’s suicide prevention research agenda, leading the Institute to focus on areas of research that could swiftly make an impact on the rising suicide rate, such as improving and implementing risk detection and screening methods and interventions for individuals at risk for suicide. In a new paper, published in JAMA Psychiatry, NIMH looks forward, outlining the next stages in the Institute’s suicide prevention research priorities.

Studies by researchers at NIMH-supported institutions and NIMH intramural researchers have helped identify practices that are effective at reducing suicide. Practices such as the implementation of universal suicide risk screening in emergency care settings and the integration of risk prediction analysis into electronic health records have all been shown to be effective in identifying those who may be thinking of harming themselves. Similarly, certain types of psychotherapies, the creation of safety plans, and continuing contact (such as through postcards or phone calls) have all been shown to help prevent suicide attempts.

Moving forward, NIMH seeks to advance research to help take these evidence-based practices and implement them on a large scale in health care settings. Implementation and integration of suicide prevention practices in health care settings are critical, as studies have shown that a majority of people who die by suicide visited a healthcare provider in the year prior to their death. Health care settings, therefore, are key locations where evidence-based risk-detection, screening, and intervention practices can reach those who need help the most.  

Suicide prevention research priorities for NIMH in the next 5 years include research aimed at better understanding the efficacy and implementation of evidence-based practices into primary and specialty care settings; testing the integration and implementation of suicide prevention measures into collaborative care models; understanding the impact of suicide prevention practices on long-term patient outcomes; implementing and evaluating risk prediction algorithms in clinical and research settings; and, continuing to identify and test the feasibility, safety, and efficacy of treatment protocols for rapid-acting interventions.

NIMH also seeks to increase uptake of those practices we know to be effective by working collaboratively with key stakeholders in the practice, policy, and advocacy arenas. Partnerships such as these are essential for the uptake of evidence-based suicide prevention practices that save lives.

These new research priorities in suicide prevention align with NIMH’s broader Strategic Plan for Research, which was released this year. The priorities expressed above reflect NIMH’s goals of understanding the trajectories of mental illnesses across the lifespan, striving for prevention and cures, and strengthening the impact of NIMH-supported research.

To learn more about NIMH’s suicide prevention research priorities in healthcare, please view the full JAMA Psychiatry article published online on May 20, 2020.

Reference

Gordon, J. A., Avenevoli, S., & Pearson, J. L. (2020). Suicide prevention research priorities in healthcare. JAMA Psychiatry. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.1042