Michigan State University professor to help lead new $15 million suicide prevention research center


East Lansing – A Michigan State University professor will help lead the newly created Center for Suicide Prevention Research focused on reaching people in the prison system at risk of suicide.

The National Center for Health and Judicial Integration for Suicide Prevention will be funded for five years by a $15 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health. The center’s research has not yet been conducted but will begin within the next year.

Jennifer Johnson, MD, professor of public health at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, will serve as one of the center’s three principal investigators. Two other primary investigators, from Henry Ford Health University in Detroit and Brown University in Rhode Island, lead the program, which includes more than 100 stakeholders, 30 investigators, and more than a dozen institutions, including several in Michigan.

The center’s work will include four studies. Here’s a look at each of them:

  • An effort aimed at identifying people who are in crisis upon entering the prison system and linking them to health system support,
  • an attempt to identify and connect at-risk individuals who have left prison with health care providers;
  • Attempt to identify at-risk individuals at three prisons in Michigan and alert prison officials to allow for further assessments or support
  • An effort to add a systems navigator working with the Cambridge Police Department and the Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts in the local emergency department to “make a rapid assessment of mental health and suicide risks” on individuals to help police and health staff meet their needs.

Johnson said the work could go a long way in preventing suicides in places where that risk is significantly high.

“One in 3 men and 1 in 8 women who died by suicide had spent at least one night in prison, and a lot of times that was more recent because that’s when things started to fall apart for people,” she said. “That’s when they’re in crisis. If you’re looking for people who are at risk of suicide, who are not in good contact with care, this is where they are.”

Identifying people at risk of suicide

Johnson, a licensed clinical psychologist, said the struggle to create effective suicide prevention programs often begins with not knowing where to find people in crisis.

“It’s a needle in a haystack,” she said. “How do you find vulnerable people when they are in danger?”

Johnson said prisons are one of the best places to look, because three-quarters of people entering the criminal justice system struggle with addiction and more than half have been diagnosed with mental health problems. For these people, a prison stay, however short, is a moment of crisis.

The center will find people at risk by applying computer algorithms to large data sets drawn from health and medical records, and refer them to prison admissions and criminal justice records, which are public records, said Lauren Weinstock, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior. at Brown University.

Weinstock, who will also serve as the center’s principal investigator, said.

She added that the data will be used differently in each of the center’s four studies to link identified at-risk individuals with psychological and health support, whether they are in prison or have recently been released.

“We can help identify this person in the health system so that they can communicate with the person, screen them and possibly conduct a suicide risk assessment or provide suicide prevention interventions as needed,” Weinstock said.

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An effective tool for prison staff

The data collected will be used to notify officials at three Michigan prisons involved in studies when a detainee is identified as being at risk of suicide and in need of further evaluations or support, said Sheryl Kubik, dean of social work at the University of Michigan. Wayne State University Center for Behavioral Health and Justice.

Kubik, who will oversee that study, said the prisons in question had not yet been completed. She hopes to provide another tool for prison staff to identify and address people in crisis.

“Most of the mechanisms that prisons have when people get in is self-reporting,” Kubik said, and while staff at every prison ask people as they go if they have committed suicide, there are many things that prevent people from being honest about their mental state.

Captain Jason Gould worked in the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office as the director of the prison for nearly 10 years.

“The reality is that prisons in our county, our state, and certainly our entire country, have to some extent been turned into mental health hospitals,” Gould said. The road literally has nowhere else to put it. It’s not that they necessarily need to go to jail. They need more help and treatment.”

He said the algorithm-based response project Kubiak is working on is an effective way to make sure these people get help.

“They’re trying to get all these pieces together and say, ‘There’s a better pattern to this and we can be more efficient in getting help to those who need it,’” Gould said.

Weinstock said those involved in the center’s research will also look at the method’s cost-effectiveness, with the hope that health and prison systems can implement it in the future.

Contact Rachel Greco at rgreco@lsj.com. Follow her on Twitter: @GrecoatLSJ .


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