Rebecca Owen, a PhD Student co-supervised by Dr Rob Dempsey (Lecturer in Psychology, Staffordshire University), reports on her current research investigating the role of psychosocial factors:
With this week being National Suicide Prevention Week, I thought it might be interesting for psychology students and the general public to see how a topic as sensitive as suicide is tackled from a psychological research perspective. Our work is investigating experience of suicidal thoughts, feelings and behaviours or attempts (also known as, “suicidality”), in people with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Despite numerous suicide prevention efforts from various sources including, the NHS and charities such as Samaritans, suicide remains the leading cause of death amongst men aged 15 to 44 in the UK. Every four minutes someone makes a suicide attempt and every hour and a half someone dies – so it really is an epidemic.
Suicide tends to be investigated in terms of risk factors. Research studies will try to identify factors which put an individual at a greater risk of either becoming suicidal or attempting to end their life. Common risk factors include gender (being male is typically associated with greater risk), age, employment status, marital status, a previous suicide attempt and a mental health diagnosis. Although these factors can help to predict who might become suicidal, they don’t really tell us anything about why someone became suicidal. For example, simply being male and unemployed doesn’t give us any explanation of the underlying psychological processes and pathways which led to the development of suicidal feelings.
This is where our work comes in – we’re interested in finding out more about these underlying psychological processes. For example, feeling hopeless, feeling defeated and trapped within a situation, feeling like you can’t cope. By understanding more about these processes, we hope that we’ll be able to better inform psychological interventions which specifically aim to change these processes in order to reduce suicide risk in bipolar disorder.
This type of research is a relatively new area in the field of bipolar disorder, so we started off by conducting an exploratory qualitative study with 20 participants (click here to view the paper’s abstract). We found that factors which protected against suicidal behaviour included, (1) thinking about the impact that suicide would have upon family members and friends, and (2) having a strong social support system. We found that triggers for suicidal thoughts included, (1) experiencing mental health stigma, and (2) feeling like a burden to other people.
Participants sought: Do you have a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder?
These qualitative findings have informed a larger, quantitative, questionnaire based study which we are currently recruiting volunteers for. Recruitment for the questionnaire study will close by February 2016. If anyone would like any more information about our work or would like to take part, please get in touch with me directly by email at Rebecca.firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone on 0161 275 2593.
World Suicide Prevention Day 2015
Thursday 10th September is World Suicide Prevention Day – more details about this awareness event can be found via the WSPD2015 Facebook page and via the International Association for Suicide Prevention’s website.
Dr Rob Dempsey is a Lecturer in Psychology, Chartered Psychologist and member of Staffordshire University’s Centre for Health Psychology and Centre for Psychological Research. Rob co-supervises Rebecca’s PhD research with Dr Trish Gooding (University of Manchester) and Professor Steven Jones (Lancaster University). More information about Psychology courses and Postgraduate Research degrees at Staffordshire University can be found here.