Ethical Issues in Suicide Prevention Research

March 11, 2022
News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark Research

A new consensus study summarizes key ethical considerations in suicide prevention research from multiple expert perspectives.

According to the study authors, research to understand and address suicide is critically important but must align with ethical guidelines and include safeguards for both participants and researchers. To identify the most important ethical issues to consider when designing such studies, they surveyed 34 suicide researchers and 32 people with lived experience (i.e., individuals who had attempted or considered suicide, lost a loved one to suicide, or cared for someone during a suicidal crisis). The study design was co-created by researchers with lived experience and used an online questionnaire that was based on previous findings.

The results showed strong agreement between respondents who were researchers and those who had lived experience. Researchers emphasized adherence to national guidelines, while people with lived experience focused on care and support for participants and researchers. In addition to concern about the availability of support and crisis intervention for study participants, respondents raised concern about the vulnerability of those conducting the research and the need to address potential vicarious trauma.

This study was conducted in Australia and although it provides important insights into ethical issues that need to be considered when designing and implementing suicide research, its generalizability to other cultural contexts and countries may be limited. Another limitation, acknowledged by the authors, is that because the design was a single-round consensus study, there was no opportunity for participants to reconsider ratings based on group scores. 

Dempster, G., Ozols, I., Krysinska, K., Reifels, L., Schlichthorst, M., Pirkis, J., & Andriessen, K. (2022). Ethical issues to consider in designing suicide prevention studies: An expert consensus study. Archives of Suicide Research, 1–17. https//doi.org/10.1080/1381118.2021.2022553