As a suicide prevention researcher, several times each year I am asked to consult with research groups on the possibility of supplementing their primary study
aims with a secondary focus on suicide risk and suicide-related
outcomes. These investigators are studying phenomena that
overlap with suicide in terms of risk and resiliency. Their areas
of research have spanned childhood trauma, aggression and
violence, depression and anxiety, alcohol/substance abuse, sleep
disturbance, chronic medical illness and, most recently, bariatric
What has been the outcome of these consultations? Some
investigators have supplemented their studies to address
suicide-related concerns; others have not. There are real
barriers to doing so — investigator fears, misinformation, risk
management issues and resource requirements. However, if the
research team has a strong infrastructure and the capacity to
consult with someone familiar with suicide risk management, it
is possible to do so.
This article asks two questions: Why is it important for more
researchers to work together to address the problem of suicide?
And how can researchers overcome perceived and real barriers?
Suicide is a tragedy that cuts across all demographic lines in
the United States. In 2013, suicide was the 10th leading cause
of death overall and the second leading cause of death among
young people ages 15 to 34 years, according to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention. Perhaps surprising to many,
the suicide rate is consistently higher than the homicide rate
in the United States and continues to trend upward. Moreover,
for every adult death by suicide, there are approximately three
hospitalizations and 10 emergency department visits for suicide
attempts, according to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center
Among our nation’s high school students, 17 percent report
having seriously considering suicide and 2. 7 percent report
having made a suicide attempt necessitating medical treatment
during a one-year period (Kann et al., 2014).
How could a larger community of researchers contribute
to our understanding of suicide and its prevention? Of
equal importance, how could researchers in areas pertinent
to suicide risk bring their differing expertise to bear on this
problem? Suicide risk factors overlap with risk factors for
myriad health and social problems including homicide, motor
vehicle accidents, drug overdoses, trauma, chronic illness,
unemployment and more. Researchers in these areas may
be able to leverage existing resources to contribute to our
understanding of suicide prevention.
Understandably, researchers are often reluctant to “go
Asking or not
The possibility of “added value” research to
improve our understanding of suicide.
By Cheryl A. King, PhD