It's Not Easy - Impacts of Suicide Prevention Research on Study Staff

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Suicide prevention researchers who work with individuals at high risk of suicide or are exposed to details of suicide attempts and deaths may experience negative impacts on their own well-being. This is not unlike the experiences of mental health providers, where repeated exposure to clients' difficult experiences gas long been identified as an occupational risk (Molnar et al., 2017). however, there have been few studies evaluating how exposure to details of suicide-related behavior impacts researcher well-being. This gap in the literature is worrisome, as researcher' mental health and well-being might be negatively impacted by repeated exposure to graphic details of suicide attempts, and managing potential crises that arise during research activities. Left unaddressed, this repeated exposure may lead to negative outcomes for those working in the suicide prevention field and potentially the success of the field as a whole.

In this editorial, we argue for the importance of including coping support in suicide prevention research. We begin by reviewing definitions of terms that have been previously used to discuss harms associated with exposure to another's difficult mental health experiences: vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, secondary traumatic stress, and burnout. We then discuss a subset of the extant literature regarding the impact of suicide prevention research activities on research staff. We conclude with a discussion of future directions for research and practice, including the implementation of a novel intervention to address mental health distress among researchers at our facility.


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