About AFSP Research Grants
In 2017, AFSP invested a total of $4.65 Million Dollars in 27 new research grants. AFSP is the largest private funder of suicide research. Our Scientific Council helps set the national research agenda.
Of those grants, two are Focus Grants, totaling nearly $2 million.
Over the past 5 years, AFSP has awarded $18.8 million.
Over the past 10 years, AFSP has awarded $26.5 million.
AFSP’s research grants cover a broad range of categories including:
NEUROBIOLOGICAL: How do brain structure and neurochemical function contribute to suicide?
PSYCHOSOCIAL: What are the risk factors and warning signs for suicide?
GENETIC: What genetic pathways are associated with suicide risk, and can we develop biological interventions and treatments?
TREATMENT: What treatments — like therapies and medications — are effective at reducing suicide?
COMMUNITY: What universal prevention programs — like hotlines, gatekeeper training, and community-based programs — are the most effective?
LOSS SURVIVORS: What is the impact of suicide loss, and what helps the healing process?
Research Study: Behavioral Mechanisms, Prediction, and Treatment of Short-Term Suicide Risk
Over the past 40 years, research has shown that lithium can help to reduce suicide risk… but we don’t yet know how. The following study seeks to determine if cognitive and behavioral factors associated with suicide, such as decision making, aggression and impulsiveness, change with lithium treatment.
Dr. Alan Swann of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas has always been interested in finding practical approaches to treat severe clinical problems. During his residency, he studied mood disorders and the mechanisms that activate human behavior. During this time, he developed a particular interest in the interaction between two seemingly opposite states: mania and depression.
The combination of these two states, which can fluctuate rapidly, is associated with an increased risk for suicide. Parallel to developing this interest, Dr. Swann had the opportunity to research lithium in relation to mood disorders, studying its effects on brain function and aggressive behavior. Soon afterward, he collaborated in a clinical study of people who had survived self-inflicted gunshot wounds. This led him to the finding that impulsive behavior was related to feelings of hopelessness.
Impulsivity, Swann discovered, increased the likelihood that someone would go through with a planned suicide attempt. Certain measures of impulsivity were elevated in people with bipolar disorder who had made potentially lethal suicide attempts. This was true whether the attempts were classified as “impulsive” or “premeditated.” Interestingly, participants in the study of self-inflicted gunshot wounds reported that the immediate precipitant of their suicide attempt was often a relatively minor stressor. Severe suicidal behavior appeared to be a combination of long-term factors and immediate regulation of behavior associated with stressors.
While it is widely held that lithium can reduce suicide mortality through its effects on aggression and/or impulsivity, such effects have never been demonstrated using quantitative behavioral or physiological measures. As the recipient of one of this year’s two coveted AFSP Focus Grants – targeted, innovative, and potentially high impact studies that seek to inform and even transform suicide prevention efforts – Dr. Swann will be further studying the underlying mechanisms that change with f lithium treatment that makes it effective for short-term suicide risk.