Contact: Sasha Steinberg
STARKVILLE, Miss.—Faculty researchers in Mississippi State’s Department of Psychology are receiving $1.6 million in federal support to develop a more comprehensive approach to statewide youth suicide prevention and intervention.
Awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and its Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the five-year subgrant will be led by co-principal investigators Michael R. Nadorff and Emily S.H. Stafford, as well as four MSU psychology colleagues, to address several gaps identified in the Magnolia State’s youth suicide prevention program.
In addition to Nadorff and Stafford, project contributors include co-investigators Sam Winer, associate professor of psychology; Mitchell Berman, professor and psychology department head; and Hilary DeShong, assistant professor of psychology. Danielle Nadorff, assistant professor of psychology, is the project’s evaluator.
Michael Nadorff, an associate professor of psychology and licensed psychologist overseeing MSU’s Sleep, Suicide and Aging Laboratory, said youth suicide is a significant and growing issue in Mississippi. According to the CDC, there were 515 youth suicides in the state in the last decade, and the rate has been increasing in recent years.
One gap that Nadorff said he and his fellow researchers are addressing is an inadequate number of trained gatekeepers in Mississippi. In 2017, a state law was passed requiring all school district staff to receive two hours of suicide prevention training with more than 63,000 educators trained to date. The state also received a Mental Health Awareness Training grant led by MSU Extension Assistant Professor David Buys and colleagues to fund dissemination of Youth Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) across the state.
Nadorff said as of February 2019, Mississippi has 151 people trained as MHFA instructors and 8,821 people trained as mental health first aiders, and plans to train a total of 450 School Resource Officers and 1,800 educators in Youth MHFA. In addition, the new grant aims to train 25,000 more youth suicide gatekeepers over the next five years to further increase the state’s ability to identify and help youth who are at risk of suicide.
“Although we are very proud of these successful efforts, there are many points of contact with youth who may not be able to receive Mental Health First Aid training due to its long duration, which is 8 hours,” Nadorff said. “Our new grant provides a secondary shorter training option of 1-2 hours for those who would like to be trained but may not require a full-day training. As such, our program is a very nice complement to the Mental Health First Aid program led by MSU Extension.”
Stafford, assistant clinical professor and director of the MSU Psychology Clinic, said prompt and effective postvention, or intervention conducted after a suicide, is essential and needed for helping individuals and communities recover and minimizing the likelihood of suicide contagion. She said this is especially true in schools, where a student’s support network often is “rocked” at a critical time of emotional development.
“Unfortunately, postvention is a notable gap in our current suicide response,” she said. “Resources are stretched thin, and the local mental health professionals are doing their best. Currently, the data are not being collected on whether postvention is occurring. Each mental health region is responsible for its own response to a youth suicide, and increased clinician training on suicide prevention and intervention could help improve that response.”
Nadorff said the project also highlights the need to recruit more mental health clinicians to the state. He said there are 11.9 psychologists for every 100,000 people in Mississippi—the lowest ratio of any state and almost three times less than the national average.
“It is unclear to what extent the lack of clinicians contributes to the youth suicide rate, so we will investigate this with our ‘Region 8’ pilot program to better understand how best to spend our resources, so they have maximum effect,” Nadorff said.
Region 8 serves a total of five counties, including Madison and Rankin counties which Nadorff said account for a total of 37—or 13%—of the state’s previous five-year suicide deaths for those under 25 years of age.
Nadorff said “Region 8” will utilize its grant funds to hire five new therapists who are focused on youth suicide prevention.
“Looking at the suicide rate in ‘Region 8’ over the next five years in relation to surrounding regions will provide evidence for whether youth suicide is best reduced through increasing the number of available clinicians or through investing in other suicide prevention programs, such as gatekeeper trainings,” he explained.
Berman said, “We hope this work will facilitate the establishment of a Center for the Study of Suicide Prevention at MSU for future activities and funding.”
MSU’s College of Arts and Sciences includes more than 5,300 students, 300 full-time faculty members, nine doctoral programs and 25 academic majors offered in 14 departments. Complete details about the College of Arts and Sciences and the Department of Psychology can be found at www.cas.msstate.edu or www.psychology.msstate.edu.
Nadorff can be contacted at 662-325-1222 or MNadorff@psychology.msstate.edu.
MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.