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Conducting Research with High Risk Suicidal Individuals

Friday 15 January, 2021

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Advancing the science of suicide prevention and discovering innovative approaches to suicide-focused assessment and care are priorities within our nation, the Department of Defense, and the Veterans Health Administration. Yet the conduct of suicide prevention research, especially with high risk suicidal participants, presents a number of unique challenges for researchers. The complexities of research with suicidal participants, uncertainties about how to best track and manage suicide risk among participants, delays and challenges associated with regulatory board approvals, and even a sense of anxiety about working with a vulnerable group, may serve as deterrents. Ultimately, some of our best researchers may avoid engagement with suicide prevention research and those already in the field may experience some level of professional burnout. Collectively, we must build a research environment that leads to enthusiasm for suicide prevention, despite its numerous challenges.

This presentation covers various aspects of research with high risk suicidal participants. Primary emphasis is placed on practical tips and guidance on how to best navigate the following research activities: IRB applications, suicide risk assessment and management strategies suitable for different types of studies, Data Safety Monitoring Plans and Boards, Adverse Event Reporting, Medical Monitors, training of research team, handling of suicidal crises, consultation and supervision, and more.


Marjan G. Holloway, PhD and Katherine Anne Comtois, PhD, MPH have conducted research with suicidal and high risk civilian, military, and Veteran participants for more than a decade. Dr. Holloway currently serves as the Director of the Suicide Care, Prevention and Research Initiative (Suicide CPR Initiative) at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. Dr. Comtois is the Director of the Center for Suicide Prevention and Recovery at the University of Washington and Director for Dissemination and Implementation at the Military Suicide Research Consortium.