Hunter College has received a $3 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to identify biobehavioral factors that interact with distinct patterns of suicidal thoughts to increase risk of suicide attempts. Research findings are expected to improve risk assessment and better guide intervention. Two hundred racially and economically diverse adolescents will be recruited to participate in the four-year study, primarily from three partnering New York City public hospitals.
“Adolescence is a time when people are most likely to attempt suicide, but identification of youth likely to do so remains difficult,” said Regina Miranda, PhD, Professor of Psychology and one of the study’s two investigators. “Suicidal thoughts often precede suicide attempts, but for some teens, these thoughts go away while for others they repeatedly return. Because over half of adolescent suicides are first-time attempts, it is crucial to understand how and when suicidal thoughts increase risk for suicide attempts. We understand very little about the mechanisms underlying different suicidal thoughts and how they confer risk of suicide attempts among adolescents, so this study will fill an important knowledge gap.”
“What’s unique about the study is that we are looking at the inner and outer lives of teens at multiple levels—brain function to quality of sleep to day-to-day changes in thoughts and feelings,” said Tracy Dennis-Tiwary, PhD, Professor of Psychology at Hunter College and the other study investigator. “Looking at teens from this broad perspective allows us to take research on the risks for suicide to a new level, with the prospects of identifying risks earlier, preventing suicide attempts, and strengthening teens’ resilience and mental well-being. While this is not an intervention study, we hope our findings will help shape future interventional techniques.”
“Teen suicide is a serious public health issue, and I am proud that our forward-looking faculty members are tackling it,” said Jennifer J. Raab, president of Hunter College. “Hunter’s tradition—in fact, our motto—charges us to care for the future, and addressing the health and well-being of our teens through greater understanding of suicide risk is a vitally important investment in our future.”
For the study, adolescents (12 to 17 years old) with suicidal ideation will be recruited, starting in the fall, from emergency departments and outpatient clinics in Manhattan and the Bronx. The Hunter College researchers are partnering with staff at three participating public hospitals—NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue and NYC Health + Hospitals/Metropolitan, in Manhattan; and NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln, in the Bronx—to identify candidates for participation. Those who agree to participate will be followed for a year.
The study combines measures of brain and behavior, including non-invasive EEG and other clinical measures, mobile assessment of thoughts and feelings, and sleep monitoring.
Some participants will be engaged through a new office in East Harlem adjacent to Hunter College’s Silberman campus. Because of its location and the demographics of patients typically receiving such care at the referring hospitals, the expectation is that a significant portion of participants with be Latina, a group often recognized as being at greater risk of suicide attempts, yet underrepresented in studies.