Is Research With Suicidal Participants Risky Business?

Authored by: Rahel Eynan , Yvonne Bergmans , Jesmin Antony , John R. Cutcliffe , Henry G. Harder , Munazzah Ambreen , Ken Balderson , Paul S. Links

Routledge International Handbook of Clinical Suicide Research

Print publication date:  October  2013
Online publication date:  October  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415530125
eBook ISBN: 9780203795583
Adobe ISBN: 9781134459292


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Suicide is a public health problem with extensive social, emotional and economic consequences. According to the World Health Organization, it is one of the leading causes of premature death worldwide (WHO, 2011) and claims the lives of approximately one million individuals annually. As a serious public health problem, suicide research is imperative, yet there are fewer empirical studies on suicide than on numerous less common causes of death (Mishara & Weisstub, 2005). There is a paucity of information about the efficacy of treatments for individuals with the highest-risk psychiatric disorders, and actively suicidal individuals (Vincent, 2003). Generally, intervention studies targeting mental disorders often have excluded individuals with a history of suicide attempts, or those perceived to be at current or future risk for suicide (Pearson, Stanley, King, & Fisher, 2001). While researchers agree that empirical investigations are needed to better understand suicide and to help develop effective prevention and treatment protocols (Pearson et al., 2001; Fisher, Pearson, Kim, & Reynolds, 2002; Lakeman & FitzGerald, 2009), there is a hesitancy among researchers to include individuals who are at high risk for suicide in research studies. Despite the fact that suicide research aims at examining the presence of the vulnerability manifested in suicide risk, the perceived burden of monitoring and managing suicidal crises, the ethical and legal implications, and potential consequences are often the rationales cited for the exclusion of high risk participants (Pearson et al., 2001; Jobes, Bryan, & Neal-Walden, 2009; Lakeman & FitzGerald, 2009). Concomitantly, there is a ubiquitous perception among researchers, health care professionals, and the public (Feldman et al., 2007; Meerwijk et al., 2010), that talking about suicide elevates the suicide risk and may result in the individual's attempt to end their life (Lakeman & FitzGerald, 2009).

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