Spotlight on Suicide Prevention

A person dies by suicide every 40 seconds. This has to change.

Tuesday 10th September 2019 marks World Suicide Prevention Day; a time for us to come together and raise awareness of the importance of evidence-based suicide prevention work.

With this in mind, we talk to three of the HOPES (Help Overcome and Predict the Emergence of Suicide) project researchers to find out more about the MQ funded study, and how research can produce urgently needed evidence to help improve the lives of people, globally.  

 

Why are you interested in suicide research and why is suicide research so important?

LV: Suicide is the leading cause of death in young people, and has a devastating effect on families and communities. It is also a preventable cause of death, and I think we need to know more about the risk factors for suicidal behaviour, so that we can better target treatment and prevention strategies.

VC: Suicide research is very important to help us with predicting and preventing suicide. Suicide can be prevented if predicted early on. We know the risk factors and we need to better understand which factors contribute to the transition from thinking about suicide to acting upon these thoughts.​​ Understanding these factors could help us identify and predict people at higher risk of suicide and provide the support they need.

LC: I have been working in the field of affective disorders for some time now, and only recently I became aware of the prevalence and increases in suicide rates during the last decade, especially in youth. The urgency of the matter struck me, and I got interested in the neurobiological characteristics of suicidal thoughts and behaviours (STBs). Suicide attempts can unfortunately lead to a loss of a life, so any step that leads to prevention of such outcome is a success.

What do you think the HOPES project can achieve and how will it help prevent suicide?

LV: The HOPES project will increase our understanding of the biological factors underlying suicidal thoughts and behaviours, help us find risk factors that may predict the transition from thinking about suicide to acting on these thoughts, and will increase our understanding of how certain protective factors (such as social support) in some individuals may act to prevent the transition to suicide attempt.

VC: One of the HOPES project aims is to develop an integrative model for suicide. This could help us to understand the link between biological, cognitive and social risk factors that lead to the emergence of suicide.

LC: I am excited to be a part of an international collaboration that brings together talented scientists from different backgrounds and provides an opportunity to work on data collected in several countries. HOPES will primarily provide a much-needed ground platform to establish cross-sectional and longitudinal investigations of Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviours (STBs). STBs are complex and the reasons of emergence are unknown. By applying sophisticated analyses, we seek to look at biological (alterations in brain regions) and social (like childhood trauma) predictors to better understand the heterogeneity of STBs. With this, the next step is to be able to inform who might benefit the best from a particular medical treatment and/or therapy. This approach could help increase remission and lessen the number of lives lost to suicide.

 Why should the public support research in general?

LV: There is still a lot of stigma around mental health. Research is needed to fight misinformation, and support those dealing with these challenges. In addition, government funding for research is limited, therefore financial support from the public is crucial in order to fund important research projects, which will then lead to more effective treatment and prevention options, which will be beneficial for everyone. 

VC: Specifically, suicide is a serious public health issue. ​Suicide rates have been increasing recently, and suicide needs to be considered as serious as other causes of death. There is too much stigma associated with suicide and the more the public is engaged with suicide research, and research in general, the easier it will be to overcome stigma.

LC: Scientific breakthroughs are usually the tip of the iceberg of years of hard work of a lot of people, yet they often shift societal wellbeing for the better (think of polio vaccination). We are in an era where mental health is a burning issue, and the next large ‘scientific investment’ will be in finding preventive and encompassing solutions to mood, affective and anxiety disorders. The investment we make in research on suicide, can have tangible effects and prevent suffering and avoidable loss of life. In general, I think researchers should reach out more and engage in public conversations, since we are funded by the public and thus, we have a certain responsibility to inform on our activities and results. I am therefore honored to be a part of a transformative platform like MQ.

When you’ve had a chaotic day what are your favourite things to do to unwind and relax?

LV: Last year, I moved to Melbourne, Australia to do research on suicide. I love to explore this beautiful city and spectacular surrounding national parks in the evenings and weekends. For me, the best way to relax is to go on a hike or go camping. 

VC: At the end of a chaotic day, I try to remind myself that bad days are part of life. One of my favourite parts from the movie Inside Out is when sadness says “it’s ok to be sad”. I try to remind myself that sometimes feeling overwhelmed, sad, stressed, or disappointed is OK. There will always be good times and bad times. I love spending quality time with the people I love, I love knitting, sewing and cooking a new healthy meal. Sometimes I am strong and remind myself of all the things I am grateful for and do a small thing that makes me happy. Other days when I am not feeling so strong I call it a day, order a rich pancake, and watch movies curled up under a blanket!

LC: I work quite a lot in front of a computer, so in my down time I like to do outside activities. I have discovered that New Haven is ideally positioned between beach and New York City, so lately I like to combine those two: sunbathing, art museums, dancing in Brooklyn clubs, yoga, eating street food, and most importantly, good company for all the above!

 

Suicide is preventable, so how can we help our teens?

Dr. Blumberg discusses the teenage brain and the emergence of suicidal thoughts and behaviours, read the full article – click here