Suicide Prevention Research - MIRECC / CoE
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Suicide Prevention Research

Research at the Veterans Affairs' Northwest Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical CenterAbout Our Research

The CoE houses a robust, multifaceted research program that seeks to advance innovative approaches to preventing Veteran suicide. Consistent with our Center's framework, research domains are designed to inform the development and use of evidence-based prevention strategies across broad categories of risk (universal, selective, indicated) that are coordinated to reflect our mission and goals.

That is, CoE research examines upstream outcomes to alter life trajectories prior to the development of suicidal behaviors, while also intervening to address risk factors for vulnerable Veterans within the health system.

 Meet our investigators to learn more about currently funded research projects.

Linking Research to Practice : News from Our Investigators

Second Lady Karen Pence Highlights Suicide Prevention Research in Charleston, South Carolina
Wednesday, September 2, Second Lady Karen Pence joined by Acting Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Pamela Powers, visited Charleston to learn more about Veteran suicide prevention efforts. Following a tour of the Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center, the Second Lady participated in a roundtable discussion with CoE Co-Research Director Tracy Stecker and others. "I am inspired by the important work Dr. Stecker and the VAMC in providing quality mental health care for our [V]eterans." Read the full White House press briefing here.

Strategies to promote social connections among older Veterans while "social distancing"
Social (or physical) distancing is an important public health strategy for controlling the spread of the COVID-19 virus and minimzing its impact. However, sometimes physical distancing can result in social isolation, which can lead to loneliness - particularly among older Veterans. Loneliness is associated with a myriad of adverse health outcomes, one of which is impaired immune functioning, which adds greater risk for coronavirus infection, complications and death. Similar to depression and anxiety, loneliness and stress related to social isolation can be conceptualized as being caused and maintained not just by "objective" circumstances, but also by individuals' thoughts, behaviors and feelings surrounding these experiences. Older adults, therefore, are at a compound risk, making effective management of loneliness and social isolation in older Veterans a high priority target for preventive intervention. This study's authors, including CoE's Emily Bower, Ph.D. describe a cognitive-behavioral framework for bolstering social connectedness, including evidence-informed strategies clinicians can use to help patients develop a "Connections Plan" to stay connected and promote their social, mental and physical health while social distancing.

Researchers aim to reduce post-hospitalization suicide risk
Todd Bishop, Ph.D., Robert Bossarte, Ph.D. and Wilfred Pigeon, Ph.D., alongside colleagues at Harvard Medical School and the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, recently received funding to reduce suicides among Veterans transitioning home following a psychiatric hospitalization. The multi-million-dollar grant, awarded by the Warren Alpert Foundation, will allow researchers to evaluate the efficacy of the "Coping Long-Term with Active Suicide Program (CLASP)", a telehealth based intervention designed to reduce suicidal behavior among individuals at high risk for suicide going through periods of transition. The three-year randomized trial will offer CLASP (n=425) as compared to VHA usual care (n=425) to Veterans identified as being at the greatest risk of suicide by a predictive modeling algorithm developed by colleagues at the Harvard Medical School and CoE. "Widespread implementation of this intervention could be one of the most effective ways available to reduce the number of suicide attempts and deaths in this high-risk segment of the population," noted one of the study investigators. Researchers anticipate the implementation of CLASP will significantly reduce post-discharge suicide-related behaviors in Veterans, including nonfatal suicide attempts, opioid overdose or other substance-related accidents and death by suicide. Secondary outcomes involving Veteran suicidal ideation and functioning will also be examined.

The relationship between opioid use disorder and social connection
Social problems including loneliness and social isolation not only increase risk of mortality, but are also common among individuals with an opioid use disorder (OUD). A study conducted by CoE investigators Lisham Ashrafioun, Ph.D., Tracy Stecker, Ph.D. and Nicholas Allen, Ph.D. sought to assess: (1) the extent to which difficulties participating in social activites are associated with OUD and (2) suicidal thoughts and behaviors as a potential consequence of difficulties participating in social activities among those with an OUD. Study data suggest suicidal ideation and suicide attempts are more common among those with an OUD and individuals commonly experience severe difficulty participating in social activities. The study also found that increasing social activities may be important to address OUD and reduce suicidal ideation. Addressing social factors in individuals with an OUD can reduce risk factors for relapse and improe patients' skills in developing, maintaining and utilizing social supports effectively.