Highlighting the True Connection Between Research and Suicide Prevention

Research has yielded a great deal of knowledge about suicide, providing insight into questions such as, “What might lead someone to take their life?” and, “Is there anything we can do to prevent suicide?” The answers are that it’s complex – no one takes their life for a single reason – and yes, research has revealed many ways we can help save lives. Yet many people don’t realize the powerful connection between scientific research and every facet of what we do as America’s leading suicide prevention organization.

As the largest private funder of suicide prevention research, AFSP shapes suicide prevention strategies around the world through our state-of-the-art research portfolio, and by funding, supporting, and influencing the most innovative, practical, and forward-thinking researchers and studies.

It’s scientific research that informs AFSP’s education programs that are presented in schools, workplaces, and other settings across the country. It’s through research that we are learning how to best support those who have been affected by suicide. All the awareness and knowledge we spread through events like the Out of the Darkness Walks are grounded in scientific research. Research forms the basis of our bold Project 2025 goal to reduce the national suicide rate 20% by the year 2025. Our volunteer Field Advocates fight for legislation that ensures funding for more research, so we can keep learning new ways to help people.

Research forms the basis of our bold Project 2025 goal to reduce the national suicide rate 20% by the year 2025.

It’s our suicide prevention research that connects all those things – as well as connecting people together, united for a common cause.

AFSP was founded as a research organization dedicated to exploring how to save lives. Today, we continue to build on what we’ve learned and seek answers to the most important question of all: how to create a world without suicide.

Researcher standing in front of poster above Research Connection logo

Investing in Knowledge

Each year, AFSP welcomes a broad range of applications from a diverse group of researchers. These applications are then rigorously reviewed by our international team of Scientific Advisors, our Research Grants Committee, Scientific Council, and finally, our Board of Directors.

Some areas examined by our newest grants include:

  • enhancing suicide assessments and interventions for underrepresented and understudied communities
  • the use of technology to identify or help people at risk
  • the effectiveness of ketamine and other interventions and treatments for managing suicidal thoughts and behavior
  • psychosocial factors related to suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • the maternal and perinatal transition as a risk factor for suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • the examination of brain and other biological functions
  • firearm safety and suicide prevention
$23.7M in funding for all
current studies
$6.44M invested in new
research in 2021

Championing Early Career Researchers

As part of our commitment to building future generations of researchers, our Young Investigator Grants offer early-career researchers the opportunity to develop and pursue their first independently funded study, under the guidance of a dedicated mentor. Since 1987, over 70% of these Young Investigators have gone on to secure large competitive federal grants from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and other sources to advance the work for which AFSP provided initial funding.

Serving as a significant milestone in the development of this next wave of researchers, AFSP’s Young Investigator Grants are a key part of our priority to further develop a strong scientific community devoted to suicide prevention research.

From Generation to Generation

Dr. Jeffrey Bridge, Director of the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at The Abigail Wexner Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, was a recipient of an AFSP Young Investigator Grant. He is now involved with the program once again, serving as a mentor for Dr. Arielle Sheftall, a current Young Investigator.

Dr. Jeffrey Bridge

Dr. Jeffrey Bridge

“For my Young Investigator award project, in 2006, we conducted a case-control study that compared 40 adolescents with a recent history of suicide attempt and 40 adolescents with no lifetime history of suicidal ideation or behavior on levels of impulsivity, aggression, and impulsive aggression, assessed using a variety of laboratory-based and self-report measures. We found that decision-making deficits distinguished adolescents who attempted suicide from those who had no history of suicidal behavior.

Dr. Sheftall had played a key role in that study, serving as the project coordinator. I had first met Dr. Sheftall in 2007 when she joined my lab as a research associate. Recognizing Dr. Sheftall’s strong potential, I encouraged her to pursue her doctoral degree.

I have worked closely with Dr. Sheftall on the development of her current AFSP-funded Young Investigator research project, providing support and guidance. We meet regularly to discuss the progress of the project and troubleshoot any concerns that may occur. Dr. Sheftall has developed into an astute investigator, conducting leading-edge research to identify early vulnerabilities in children at high risk of future suicidal behavior. I am honored to be a mentor to Dr. Sheftall as she continues to develop her independent line of research.”

Dr. Arielle Sheftall

Dr. Arielle Sheftall

“For my AFSP Young Investigator Grant, I am examining risk factors in children, ages 6- to 11-year-olds, associated with suicidal behavior. Literature concerning suicide risk in childhood is limited, but rates of suicide are increasing substantially for this age group. To gain insight, my study focuses on three sets of youth: children who have never been suicidal; children with a history of suicidal ideation only; and children with a history of suicide attempts. The risk factors we are examining include familial factors (e.g., parenting style), neurocognitive functioning (e.g., problem solving), and ADHD diagnosis. Discovering the presence of vulnerabilities to suicidal ideation and behavior at an early age could inform prevention and intervention efforts, assist with the creation of developmentally appropriate intervention programming, and prevent suicide in at-risk youth.

As my mentor, Dr. Bridge and I discuss the research project’s recruitment strategies, research assessment protocol, concerns brought to my attention from staff, and other study-related concerns. We also discuss how my research agenda will progress in the future.

AFSP’s Young Investigator Grants are not only a great mechanism to gather pilot data for future funding opportunities – they also provide an opportunity to establish a relationship with a more senior researcher to help guide and encourage you through the world of academia and research.”