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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

Individual barriers to implementation of Whole Health for pain management among Veterans
Given the incidence of chronic pain in Veterans and the current focus on nonpharmacologic strategies to address pain, CoE research team members Paul Dougherty, DC, Janet McCarten, Ph.D. and Lisham Ashrafioun, Ph.D., sought to evaluate a program that would utilize a combination of pain education through a Whole Health for Pain program. The study focused on the challenges associated with enrolling Veterans in this novel approach to pain management that utilized pain education (group session) and optional individual coaching to help engage the Veteran in self-management. The project identified several significant logistical and social barriers to Veteran engagement that may require further evaluation of a Veteran’s readiness to change. Additional study findings can be found here.

Gatekeeper training needs of community pharmacies
According to the CDC more than 90% of the U.S. population live within 5 miles of a community pharmacy, and patients visit their community pharmacist 12 times more frequently than their primary care provider. Given the frequency of community pharmacy interactions, Jill Lavigne, Ph.D. MPH, and team sought to enhance an online suicide prevention gatekeeper training program with the needs of community pharmacies in mind. The study aimed to prepare community pharmacy staff for communicating with patients who exhibit warning signs of suicide.

Comorbid mental disorders, depression sympton severity and role impairment among Veterans initiating depression treatment through the Veterans Health Administration
A team of researchers from the CoE and Harvard University, including Robert Bossarte, Ph.D., Wilfred Pigeon, Ph.D., and Howard Liu, Ph.D., have completed a large, longitudinal study of over 2,500 Veterans enrolled in depression treatment. A recently published manuscript from that study, which included key Veterans Affairs co-authors Dr. Edward Post and Dr. David Oslin, sought to better understand the independent associations of depression severity and comorbidity with impairments. Previous research on comorbidity and impairment among depressed Veterans has focused mainly on comorbid PTSD. An exclusive focus on PTSD is a limitation because depression is also comorbid with a wide range of other mental disorders and the prevalence of these disorders as well as multimorbidity (i.e., a single patient having 3 or more disorders) is especially high among VHA patients. Moreover, depression severity is typically not considered in these studies but is important to account for given that more severely depressed patients generally also have more comorbidities. Findings suggest that providing effective and long-lasting depression treatment for Veterans is imperative given the substantial role impairment caused by depression and the key role of depression in Veteran suicides. Addressing both depression symptom reduction and psychiatric comorbidity management would likely be beneficial for achieving optimal functioning. Future research should examine prospective relationships of psychiatric comorbidities, depression symptom severity, and role impairment changes over time and in relation to symptomatic treatment response.