CDC Grant Supports New Research Center for Suicide Prevention

Aug. 19, 2012

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has awarded the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center a five-year grant of $4.1 million to establish an Injury Control Research Center for Suicide Prevention (ICRC-S).

Rochester’s center is one of only 11 Injury Control Research Centers in the country funded by the CDC and the only one focused primarily on suicide prevention. The ICRC-S is unique as well for being based in a psychiatry department.

“The suicide rate in the United States has been climbing over the last decade,” said Eric D. Caine, M.D. chair of the Department of Psychiatry and the grant’s principal investigator. “We will investigate the factors that contribute to family-level violence and intimate partner violence that also are factors that contribute to suicide. We will pay special attention to suicide occurring among men and women in the middle years, from 35 to 65. The overall increase in suicide in the United States has been driven by increases in the mid-life age range.”

For the ICRC-S, the Department of Psychiatry has partnered with the Education Development Center Inc. (EDC), a non-profit organization based in Waltham, Mass., that, Caine said, has extensive experience providing technical assistance and outreach to states and local communities to help them develop new knowledge, disseminate information, implement evidence-based practices, collect and analyze data, and evaluate outcomes.

Caine will be director of the new center, while Yeates Conwell, M.D., professor of Psychiatry, will serve as one co-director with Jerry Reed, Ph.D., M.S.W., who is director of EDC’s Center for the Study and Prevention of Injury, Violence, and Suicide. The ICRC-S will concentrate its efforts on New York state, New England and the Middle Atlantic states, though the center is designed to have both national and international reach.

“Scientific research to bridge the gaps in suicide prevention will help us to diminish the impact of this major public health problem.  Finding successful strategies that can have an impact on self-directed harm will help us learn more about suicidal behaviors,” said Linda C. Degutis, CDC Injury Center director. “When we know the dynamics of this type of behavior, then we have the building blocks for developing effective interventions.  We are pleased that the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center is now part of CDC’s critical injury research network.”

The new center will build on the research of the Medical Center’s Center for the Study and Prevention of Suicide that was established by the department more than a decade ago, and on its public health philosophy.

Department research has included studies of suicide among the elderly, alcohol dependence and suicide, the role of depression and other psychosocial factors in suicide, and partner violence and suicide. Several members of the department conduct research treatment at the Veterans Administration Center of Excellence for Suicide Prevention in Canandaigua, which is closely affiliated with the Department of Psychiatry.

Since 1999, Caine, Conwell and other members of the department have collaborated with colleagues in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan on research on suicide and suicide prevention and in training researchers there.

Working with the Monroe County medical examiner’s office, department researchers also performed “psychological autopsies,” as part of past project, which included interviews with family members and friends of those who have committed suicide and analysis of other records. These examinations were aimed at discovering what contributed to a person’s vulnerabilities and life circumstances that might make others susceptible.

“We will bring together a mental health perspective with a public health perspective of injury control and prevention,” Caine said.

With 36,909 deaths in 2009, the most recent year with complete data, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, surpassing homicide, which was the 15th leading cause of death with 16,799 deaths in that same year.

Preliminary reports indicate 37,793 suicide deaths in 2010, slightly more than the 37,661 deaths in transportation accidents.

In 2009 suicide was the third leading cause of death for ages 15 to 24 years old, second among those 25 to 34 years old and fourth among those 35 to 44 years. Overall, deaths from suicide in the past decade have been trending upward, while those from homicide and accidental death have been falling.

For those 35 to 64 years of age, there have been steady annual increases in age-adjusted rates for suicides from 1999 to 2009. Men climbed from 21.48 to 26.75 suicides per 100,000 and women from 6.19 to 8.14, for a combined change from 13.70 to 17.33 per 100,000, an increase of more than 26 percent.

The CDC created the program in 1987 to develop centers that conduct high quality research and help translate scientific discoveries into practice for the prevention and control of fatal and nonfatal injuries, violence and related disabilities and serve as training centers as well as information centers for the public.