CDC, SSW Seek to Curb Suicides among Middle-aged Men

September 29, 2015    |  

Suicide is a primary cause of death for middle-aged men, but a new study led by the University of Maryland School of Social Work (SSW) and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will evaluate a new online screening and prevention tool aimed at changing that statistic.  

A $1.28 million, four-year grant from the CDC will support a group of interdisciplinary researchers across the United States, led by the SSW.  The researchers will examine an online screening tool and an online therapeutic program known as Man Therapy, both targeting men ages 35-64, who are at higher risk for suicide.

Suicide claims more than 40,000 lives each year and is a leading cause of injury and death among middle-aged men in Michigan, where the research will take place.

“Suicide is a major public health problem that reaches deep into the communities it affects, devastating families, friends and coworkers,” says Jodi Jacobson Frey, PhD, MSW, principal investigator and associate professor at the SSW.

“The unusually high risk of suicide among middle-aged men, coupled with their limited use of mental health resources, calls for unique approaches specifically tailored to the needs of this hard-to-reach population. The programs to be evaluated in this research directly target middle-aged men in places where they are most comfortable – at home, at work and online.”

Co-investigator Tanya Sharpe, PhD, MSW, associate professor at the SSW, says the interventions being examined –Screening for Mental Health’s online screening program and Man Therapy – specifically address some of the gender-specific issues that increase the risk of suicide for men, including their reluctance to seek help and follow through with treatment.

“These programs are designed so the at-risk men can be reached with minimal effort on their part, allowing them to access therapeutic programs without leaving home,” Sharpe says. “We hope such tools can make a difference in the lives of middle-aged men struggling with mental illness and risk of suicide, while also preventing the grief and loss that ripple into the community when a man takes his life.”

Researchers plan to enroll 200 men in the online programs and measure their suicide-related behaviors – such as attempting suicide and preparing for suicide – their suicidal ideation and their depression. The researchers also will evaluate the men’s attitudes about seeking professional mental health services, their help-seeking behaviors such as using online services and referrals, their risk factors for suicide – such as relationship, substance abuse, and financial problems– as well as their perceived level of social support.

The research will examine Screening for Mental Health’s online screening program on its own and in combination with Man Therapy.

In addition to workplace and community partners throughout Michigan, research team partners include leaders from the following organizations: Florida State University, Screening for Mental Health, Inc.; Cactus Denver; Carson J Spencer Foundation; the University of Colorado, Denver; Department of Public Health and Environment, Mental Health America of Wisconsin; eResearch Technology Inc. (ERT); Henry Ford Health System, University of Rochester Medical Center; ProtoCall Services, Inc.; National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago; and American Association of Suicidology.

“These innovative and cost-effective programs have the potential to be scaled up for nationwide use, to significantly reduce suicide attempts and deaths across the country,” says Frey.

“We are excited to see if these programs can truly impact this troubling public health problem and save lives in Michigan and beyond,” Sharpe adds.