SSW News

Studying Suicide Prevention in Middle-Aged Men

December 7, 2016    |  

December 6, 2016    |   By Mary T. Phelan

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics reports a 43 percent increase in the rate of suicide among men ages 45-64, but a new study led by the University of Maryland School of Social Work (UMSSW) and funded by the CDC is evaluating online screening tools aimed at changing that statistic.

Led by Principal Investigator, Jodi Jacobson Frey, PhD, MSW, associate professor at the UMSSW, the team of interdisciplinary researchers is testing the use of an online screening tool for depression and suicide, provided by Screening for Mental Health, with the online therapeutic program, Man Therapy, to assess how both engage middle-aged men (35-64 years) in help-seeking behavior to reduce suicide ideation and behavior.

Suicide is ranked as one of the top 10 causes of death in Michigan, where the research study takes place, and has risen by nearly 40 percent since 2000. The most significant increase has been found in middle-aged men.

“Suicide is a major public health problem that not only affects individuals, but also their families and communities,” said Frey. “The high risk of suicide among middle-aged men, coupled with their limited use of traditional mental health resources, calls for unique approaches specifically tailored to meet the needs of this hard-to-reach population. The programs to be evaluated in this research directly target middle-aged men in places where they are most comfortable – at home, at work and online.”

The research study addresses gaps in the suicide research and aligns with national priorities to prevent suicide including Healthy People 2020, the CDC’s Injury Research Agenda, and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Researchers will recruit up to 300 men living in Michigan who voluntarily complete an online depression and suicide screening through the Healthy Men Michigan Campaign website. Men who score in range for the study will be invited to participate in the research.

The specific study aims to test the additive effect of Man Therapy when offered in combination with Screening for Mental Health online screening and referrals, as compared to online screening and referrals only. Primary outcomes include suicide behavior and ideation and depression, and secondary outcomes include attitudes toward seeking professional mental health services; help-seeking behavior; suicide risk factors (i.e. alcohol and drug use/abuse, relationship conflicts, financial problems, and interpersonal needs); and the protective factor of social support.

To date, no research has evaluated the combined effects of Screening for Mental Health and Man Therapy. Frey stressed the need to “evaluate innovative online programs to see what actually works for men with regard to reducing suicide ideation and behaviors.”

Results will inform the field about innovative online programs designed specifically to engage middle-aged men in suicide help-seeking behavior. Through this research project, researchers will identify the core components of online screening and innovative online support programs and, subsequently, publish findings from the study that can be used to inform decisions about how the programs might evolve in the future.

“These innovative and cost-effective programs have the potential to be scaled up for nationwide use, to significantly reduce suicide attempts and deaths across the country,” said Frey.

To learn more about the voluntary research study, visit http://ssw.umaryland.edu/healthymenmichigan/.

To learn more about the online campaign in Michigan and how to become a partner in promoting the campaign, contact Project Director Lakhana Peou at lpeou@mentalhealthscreening.org.

This research is supported by the Cooperative Agreement Number, 1 U01 CE002661-01, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Department of Health and Human Services.

The University of Maryland is home to the Graduate School and schools of dentistry, law, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and social work and it is the founding campus of the University System of Maryland.