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Preventing repeated suicide attempts

Research awardPsyIMPACT programme

Funding period2016 - 2019

InstitutionUniversity of Glasgow

Focus areaSuicide and self-harm

Could a new US technique help to reduce risk of suicide in the UK?

The project

More than 6,000 people die by suicide each year. And it is the leading cause of death in young men in the UK.

So what can be done to tackle this urgent crisis? We know that when someone attempts suicide and is admitted for hospital treatment, the risk remains high that they will try to take their own life again. But there is currently no standard, evidence-based help that staff can offer to reduce that risk. And many may find they experience delays in getting support from a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist too.

Professor Rory O’Connor and his team at the University of Glasgow are investigating whether a programme of support developed for veterans in the US can be adapted to fill this urgent need in the UK.

The process

The US-developed support programme helps people to write a safety plan in hospital, identifying warning signs to look for and ways to respond to suicidal thoughts. Follow-up help is then given over the phone to help people stay safe and find effective support.

Rory and his team will follow a three-part process to find out whether this approach, which will be known as SAFE TEL, can work in the UK.

  • In phase one, they’ll work with staff and patients in hospitals to discuss how SAFE TEL needs to be tailored for the UK
  • In phase two, they’ll pilot the new support programme with 30 people who have attempted suicide
  • In phase three, they’ll run a randomised trial with 120 people who have attempted suicide. 80 will follow the new support programme and 40 will be given whatever support is usually offered in the three hospitals where the trial is held. Their progress will then be compared after six months.

The potential

This initial evaluation is designed to explore whether SAFE TEL can provide effective support when people attempt suicide. It will also look at people’s willingness to take part.

The answers to those questions will help to decide whether a large-scale trial is appropriate – as our researchers search for ways to fill this critical gap in mental health support. 

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