Who are we and what do we do?
The Suicide Prevention Lab, led by Dr. Amy Brausch at Western Kentucky University, is dedicated to research on youth suicide prevention and providing training in research and best clinical practices to the next generation of suicide prevention advocates. Our lab attends the Annual Conference of the American Association of Suicidology (AAS) every April, where Dr. Brausch and her students present findings from their research on what increases risk, and protects young people from suicidal thoughts and behaviors. The lab has grown to include 10 student researchers, who will all benefit from attending the 51st AAS Conference in Washington, DC in April 2018.
What will my donation support?
Your donation to our campaign will provide funds to continue conducting our research project on factors that increase suicide risk in high school students. Funds are needed to purchase suicide screening questionnaires, travel to high schools to administer questionnaires to the students, and printing costs for the research posters we will present at AAS. Funds are also needed to cover travel costs for 10 students to attend the AAS conference in Washington, DC from April 18-21, 2018.
What is the American Association of Suicidology?
The American Association of Suicidology is a non-profit organization with an overarching goal of suicide prevention and training. Its membership is made up of researchers, clinicians, crisis centers, prevention advocates, individuals who have lost someone to suicide, and students. AAS hosts and annual conference each spring and brings together individuals from all areas of suicide prevention, offering presentations, workshops, and panel discussions on all issues related to suicide. Students can present their research projects to experts in the field, attend presentations by leading researchers and clinicians who focus on suicide risk assessment and treatment, and network with other students and researchers.
Why is training in suicide prevention and research important?
Training the next generation of researchers, therapists, and suicide prevention experts is essential. The following statistics are sobering and point to the need for as much research and training in suicide prevention as possible.
- Kentucky ranks #16 in the nation for youth suicide rates
- 5-10% of Kentucky high school students report making suicide attempts each year
- 13-15% report seriously considering a suicide attempt or making a plan for an attempt
- Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in the United States for 15-24 year-olds
- For every individual who dies by suicide, an average of 147 people are exposed to the suicide death; an average of 6 people experience a major life disruption
What are the benefits for students?
Attending the AAS conference is a springboard for students for their future educational and career goals
Students in my lab have gone on to jobs in suicide prevention and master’s and doctoral programs that focus on suicide prevention, risk assessment, and treatment
Our research projects have been presented at numerous conferences both nationally and internationally, providing students with exceptional opportunities to interact with national and international experts on suicide prevention and treatment
We have screened over 500 middle and high school students in Kentucky for suicide risk and connected at-risk students with mental health resources
What are current students saying about their experiences?
“I have learned how to survey adolescents who have experienced suicidal ideation, self-harm, and suicide attempts. Gaining confidence dealing with these very sensitive issues has probably been the greatest skill I have learned from this lab. Knowing how to do this is an essential skill for suicide treatment both in the lab, as well as in practice.”
~Jordan Gregory, undergraduate student
“I have been able to witness firsthand the extreme importance of suicide prevention and treatment. One of my greatest career goals is to have a lasting impact the lives of others, and I can directly do that through a future in suicide research and prevention. Attending conferences like AAS would allow me to learn from experts in one of the most important scientific fields, one that saves lives.”
~Anna Siewers, undergraduate student
“A suicidal patient is one of the most difficult clinical problems that a psychologist can face. If my training foundation is based in prevention and assessment of suicide, then my foundation is vastly stronger and I am more equipped to deal with high risk individuals in my future career. Also, the frequency of conference attendance is fundamental for fostering professional relationships with people who are passionate about suicide prevention. I would speculate that I have already met, or will meet, my Ph.D. advisor at AAS.”
~Jeffrey Powers, master’s student
“Being able to conduct research on youth suicide helps me to better understand how additional factors found commonly in youth, such as sleep deprivation and stress, may contribute to risk behaviors and suicide ideology. This knowledge can then be applied to improving suicide prevention and treatment in high schools and college campuses. Additionally, working in a research lab helps prepare me for medical school by challenging me to think creatively about problems and gain experience using the scientific method.”
~Kristen Miller, undergraduate student
Suicide Prevention is Everyone’s Business!
“Only white males die by suicide.”
While some demographic factors contribute to suicide risk, it is important to remember that suicide does not discriminate. Individuals of all genders, races, ethnicities, upbringing, and socioeconomic statuses kill themselves. Pay attention to what the person says and does, not what he/she looks like or how you believe that person should think, feel, and act.
“Suicidal teens overreact to life events.”
Problems that may not seem like a big deal to one person, particularly adults, may be causing a great deal of distress for the suicidal teen. We have to remember that perceived crises are just as concerning and predictive of suicidal behavior as actual crises.
“Suicide is an act of aggression, anger, or revenge.”
Most people who kill themselves do so because they feel they do not belong or are a burden to others. They think that their death will free their loved ones of this burden. Many suicides occur in ways and in places that the person hopes will ease the shock and grief of those they left behind.
“Suicides happen without warning.”
Most teens who attempt or die by suicide have communicated their distress to plans to at least one other person. These communications are not always direct, so it is important to know some of the key warning signs of suicide. (see below)
“Talking to teens about suicide makes them more likely to kill themselves.”
Talking about suicide with teens gives them an opportunity to express thoughts and feelings about something they may have been keeping a secret. Research clearly demonstrates there are no iatrogenic effects of asking teens about suicide (Gould et al., 2005). In fact, discussion brings it into the open and allows an opportunity for intervention. Therefore, youth who come forward to caring adults following a presentation on suicide is most likely the result of providing that youth, who was already suicidal, the freedom to confide their pain to others. Only then will the healing begin.
Youth Suicide Warning Signs
1. Talking about or making plans for suicide.
2. Expressing hopelessness about the future.
3. Displaying severe/overwhelming emotional pain or distress.
4. Showing worrisome behavioral cues or marked changes in behavior, particularly in the presence of the warning signs above. This include significant:
- Withdrawal from or changing in social connections/situations
- Changes in sleep (increased or decreased)
- Anger or hostility that seems out of character or out of context
- Recent increase agitation or irritability
- Giving away possessions