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VA Research Spotlight

Highlights of VA research on suicide prevention

September 19, 2018

Suicide Prevention

Suicide Prevention Fact Sheet VA researchers are taking steps to prevent at-risk Veterans from contemplating, attempting, and completing the act of suicide. Investigators are exploring risk factors for suicide in individual Veterans and helping to improve risk assessments. Risk factors include behavioral health conditions such as depression; major stressful events, such as the loss of a loved one; and physical health problems, such as chronic pain. They are also working to develop effective interventions that could address multiple conditions at the same time and to identify crucial time periods at which to intervene.


VA Research Currents

Electronic alerts lower co-prescribing of opioids and benzodiazepinesElectronic alerts lower co-prescribing of opioids and benzodiazepines
Investigators used VA's electronic medical record system to automatically alert providers prescribing either opioids or benzodiazepine when high-risk patients had prescriptions for the other drug class. Co-prescribing of the two medications dropped for patients with substance use disorder, sleep apnea, and suicide risk.... (04/04/2018)



They've got each other's backs: group therapy for Veterans at risk of suicideThey've got each other's backs: group therapy for Veterans at risk of suicide
While group therapy sessions for those with issues like PTSD or anger are commonplace at VA hospitals, clinics, and Vet Centers, a research team at the Bronx VA is doing relatively pioneering work by running a group for suicidal Veterans.... (03/28/2018)



The loneliness factor: How much does it drive depression in Veterans?The loneliness factor: How much does it drive depression in Veterans?
To what extent does loneliness contribute to depression in Veterans? A VA-funded study has addressed that relatively unexplored question.... (02/28/2018)



Drug that acts like ketamine—but without the potential for abuse or psychotic effects—eases depression in lab testsDrug that acts like ketamine—but without the potential for abuse or psychotic effects—eases depression in lab tests
Researchers say a drug developed for improving thinking has the ability to act like the drug ketamine, which is being studied for its antidepressant effects, without the problematic side effects associated with ketamine.... (12/08/2017)



Down on the farm: working to end Veteran isolationDown on the farm: working to end Veteran isolation
The organization Growing Veterans, which gets participants involved in agriculture, provides a peaceful and therapeutic experience that can help Veterans reintegrate after deployments.... (11/09/2017)



Study suggests possible ties between low cholesterol levels and suicide risk in VetsStudy suggests possible ties between low cholesterol levels and suicide risk in Vets
Past research suggests a possible link between abnormally low cholesterol and suicide risk. A small study based on data from one VA site indicates the theory may warrant further investigation.... (06/22/2017)



U.N. suicide prevention program should be studied among U.S. VeteransU.N. suicide prevention program should be studied among U.S. Veterans
VA researchers assessed suicide prevention methods used around the world by reviewing published trials. They found promising evidence for the World Health Organization's "brief intervention and contact program."... (06/14/2017)



Studies probe pre-suicide contact with mental health care among Vets, soldiersStudies probe pre-suicide contact with mental health care among Vets, soldiers
Two recent studies examined the phenomenon of Veterans and service members taking their lives shortly after contact with mental health providers. One points to high risk in the week following discharge from a psychiatric unit. The other study says many soldiers who die by suicide access health care shortly before death.... (04/26/2017)

VA Research Quarterly Update

Veteran reengagement in PTSD psychotherapy How intimate partner violence affects women Veterans

Dr. Katherine Iverson is a clinical psychologist and researcher in the Women's Health Division of the National Center for PTSD, located at the VA Boston Healthcare System. Her research focuses on women's health and trauma—in particular, intimate partner violence in women Veterans. Read more



VA Research News Briefs

Complex relationship between alcohol consumption and psychiatric distress

Complex relationship between alcohol consumption and psychiatric distress - Photo for illustrative purposes only. ©iStock/South_agencyPhoto for illustrative purposes only. ©iStock/South_agency

(09/06/2018)
Hazardous drinking was linked to higher likelihood of psychiatric symptoms, while results of moderate drinking were mixed, in a study by Durham VA Health Care System researchers and colleagues. Previous studies have linked heavy drinking with increased depression and anxiety, but the it is not clear what cause-and-effect relationships, if any, may exist. The researchers collected data on alcohol use and psychiatric conditions for 3,003 Veterans. They found that hazardous drinkers were more likely to have PTSD, depression, and suicidality, compared with moderate drinkers. For men, moderate drinkers were less likely than nondrinkers to have depression and suicidality. However, this relationship disappeared when nondrinkers with past alcohol use disorder were removed from the calculations. Women moderate drinkers had lower rates of PTSD than nondrinkers and light drinkers, even when those with past AUD were removed. More research is needed on the possible protective effects of moderate drinking, say the researchers. Also, patients with a history of AUD may benefit from mental health screening and treatment, they say. (Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, July 2018)

Study shows two genes may be linked to suicide attempts

Study shows two genes may be linked to suicide attempts - Photo: ©iStock/vchalPhoto: ©iStock/vchal

(09/06/2018)
Durham VA Medical Center researchers have identified two genes that may be related to suicidal behavior. They conducted a genome-wide association study, in which they compared the genomes of a large number of Veterans to look for variations common among those with history of suicidal behavior. The researchers found an association between a gene called KCNMB2 and suicide attempts. This gene plays a key role in neuronal excitability. They also found evidence that may link another gene, ABI3BP, to both suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts. While the results are interesting, the researchers caution that they are preliminary and need replication in further studies. (Psychiatry Research, July 17, 2018)

Repeated ketamine infusions may ease PTSD and depression

Repeated ketamine infusions may ease PTSD and depression - Photo: ©iStock/stevecoleimagesPhoto: ©iStock/stevecoleimages

(08/29/2018)
Repeated ketamine infusions may improve PTSD and depression symptoms, according to a Minneapolis VA Health Care System study. Researchers gave 15 people with both PTSD and major depressive disorder six intravenous infusions of ketamine—a medication used mainly for anesthesia—over two weeks. Eighty percent had remission of PTSD symptoms immediately after treatment. The remission lasted a median of 41 days. For major depressive disorder, 93 percent experienced remission of symptoms, which lasted a median of 20 days. The results suggest that repeated ketamine treatments are safe and may be an effective treatment for people with both PTSD and major depressive disorder, say the researchers. (Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, May/June 2018)

Irregular discharges tied to higher suicide risk

Irregular discharges tied  to higher suicide risk - Photo for illustrative purposes only. ©Stock/TempuraPhoto for illustrative purposes only. ©Stock/Tempura

(07/05/2018)
Patients are at an increased suicide risk after irregular hospital discharges, according to VA researchers in New England and Ann Arbor. Irregular hospital discharges include a patient leaving the hospital against medical advice and other unplanned discharges. The researchers looked at data on more than 5 million inpatient discharges from VA facilities between 2001 and 2014. About 2 percent were irregular. Patients with an irregular discharge from a general medical ward had three times higher risk of suicide than those discharged normally a year after their discharge. Patients with an irregular discharge from psychiatric care did not have higher suicide risk based on discharge type. The findings give important information on patient populations that may need to be targeted for suicide prevention, say the researchers. (Psychiatric Services, June 1, 2018)

Suicidal behavior common with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder

Suicidal behavior common with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder - Photo: ©iStock/efksPhoto: ©iStock/efks

(06/21/2018)
A recent study confirmed that suicidal behavior is common among Veterans with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Researchers from the Bruce W. Carter VA Medical Center and VA Connecticut Healthcare System collected data on 3,942 Veterans with schizophrenia and 5,414 with bipolar disorder. They found that 70 percent of Veterans with schizophrenia had a history of suicidal thoughts or behavior. Of those with bipolar disorder, 82 percent had a history of suicidal thoughts or behavior. Veterans with more than one psychiatric condition were at the highest risk of suicide. The results underscore the need for continuous monitoring for suicidal behavior in patients with severe mental illness. (Journal of Psychiatric Research, April 21, 2018)

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