Did You Know? What We’ve Learned from the International Summit on Suicide Research!

Nov. 1, 2019- We’ve returned from a wonderfully informative four days in Miami, spent with over 450 researchers from across the globe at the 2019 International Summit on Suicide Research. This biannual conference features some of the world’s leading minds on suicide and prevention, coming together to discuss what we know, what we hope to learn in the near future, and how we can all use #Science2StopSuicide.

Having spent time in the company of some of the world’s foremost leaders in suicide research, we took the opportunity to ask them as few questions, such as: “What do you think is the most important thing research needs to tell us about suicide?” and “What do you think is the future of suicide prevention research?”

Check out just a few of their answers below!

So I think suicide prevention research has shown us some things about how to reduce the rate of suicide, and particularly where a lot of the at-risk folks are. Ten percent of suicides in the U.S. happen following a criminal or legal stressor, so the work I do intervenes for suicide prevention in the justice system. At the time of arrest, you can work with police contacts, and you can work as folks are leaving jail because those are a lot of the folks who are at-risk, and by reaching out and doing suicide prevention with these very risky populations, you can actually move rates of suicide.” – Jennifer Johnson

“I think one central theme that thus far has come out of the conference, currently, is that we want to pay particular attention to what’s happening in the short-term period prior to suicide. We haven’t historically spent a lot of time on that period, but that is a really essential period of time to better understand, as far as suicide prevention goes. We’ve come so far, I think, in doing research in suicide prevention to get to this point, to be disentangling that there is different phenomena happening at different time periods, and that we’re now approaching a critical understanding of where, when it comes from temporal and time pieces, we may want to focus some additional energy – and I really think it’s that proximal piece right before suicide death.” – Amanda Bakian

“What have we learned from research that might help us prevent suicide now or in the near future? I think one of the areas that is important is means restriction, and I think we’ve learned this in different places around the world, whether it’s pesticides in Asia, or firearms in the United States. This doesn’t mean restricting firearms; it means the safe storage of firearms, because firearms are involved with so many suicides, and we do have the research to suggest that means restriction is an effective strategy.” – Cheryl King

“I think that research has revealed that there are specific warning signs that we should look for in individuals that put them at risk for suicide and suicidal behavior, so normally, those warning signs are really important. People that become isolated, not interested in things that they used to like to do, start giving away possessions that are really prized to them, behaviors of isolation, withdrawal — those are key risk factors that we know have been associated with suicide and suicidal behaviors. Knowing what those risk factors are can actually save a life.” – Arielle Sheftall

“Research continues to show that there’s a lot of complex reasons why suicide happens, but what we are actually finding continuously is that there’s a lot of things that we can all do to prevent suicide — and those aren’t that hard. A lot of it really is about just being there for people and with people, not being judgmental, and making sure that we their thoughts, their feelings and their needs seriously. Following up with them, making sure they get help, and letting them know that they are not alone, we’ve seen consistently, keep people safe and keep them from killing themselves.” – John Draper

“So, suicide research is getting closer to finding actionable findings that real providers, for example, can implement, like how to identify people at-risk, what to do, how to follow up. But we know it’s not done in a large-scale way. So, we’re getting to a point of handing it off to our stakeholders —  people who can use this. We’re learning more about different patterns of risk for different individuals, so hopefully we can better develop interventions to meet those particular sub-group needs. So, it’s all slowly coming together, and I really do hope we can implement more of this to really make a difference in the suicide rate.” – Jane Pearson

We’d like to thank all of the researchers we met with for taking the time to speak with us, answer our questions, and make us all a little smarter about mental health. To learn more, visit our Research Video page, which features short, easy-to-understand clips from some of the world’s leading suicide prevention researchers, filmed during the 2017 International Summit on Suicide Research — and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, so you don’t miss any of the exciting things that happened throughout this year’s Summit and beyond!


The 2019 International Summit on Suicide Research is sponsored by the International Academy of Suicide Research, in partnership with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The Summit, held in Miami, FL, from October 27-30, included over 450 researchers from over 30 countries worldwide.

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