Neurobiological research with suicidal participants: A framework for investigators

Elizabeth D. Ballard, Laura Waldman, Julia S. Yarrington, Nimesha Gerlus, Laura E. Newman, Laura Lee, Mary Sparks, Victoria Liberty, Maryland Pao, Lawrence Park, Carlos A. Zarate

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Objective: Suicide is a public health threat. Nevertheless, the research literature on actively suicidal participants is relatively sparse, in part because they are often excluded from medical, psychiatric, and psychological research for a host of logistical, ethical, and safety concerns. These obstacles to research participation and enrollment may contribute to our lack of understanding regarding the neurobiology of the suicidal crisis as well as to the dearth of evidence concerning both risk prediction and treatment. Method: In order to directly investigate neurobiological markers of acute suicide risk, the National Institute of Mental Health Intramural Research Program (NIMH-IRP) implemented the Neurobiology of Suicide protocol. In this protocol, actively suicidal individuals consent to research for both neurobiological assessment and potential rapid-acting interventions. Results and conclusions: This article reviews lessons learned from implementing this protocol in the hopes of assisting future research on the neurobiology of suicide. Areas of specific discussion include the Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA), recruitment and informed consent, participant monitoring, and the safety of the physical environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-48
Number of pages6
JournalGeneral Hospital Psychiatry
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Clinical trials
  • Implementation
  • Suicide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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