Suicide Prevention

Two young adult women talking, with one sitting on a skateboard and the other sitting on the ground cross-legged.

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. and is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-34.

Identifying who is most at risk for suicide and determining which treatment are most likely to be of the greatest benefit for specific patients remain pressing questions. Researchers in suicide prevention at Duke Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences are focused on addressing these questions with ongoing studies in youth and adults—including treatment development, identification of risk and isolating genetics and environmental factors that contribute to suicide and related behaviors.

Researchers at Duke Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences are involved in research regarding the course, context, mechanisms, prevention and treatment of adolescent suicidal behaviors.   

In the context of a recently completed 20+ year study focusing on the risk and course of suicidal thoughts and behavior from adolescence through adulthood, investigators have studied the following factors:

  • Risk factors for suicidal behavior over time
  • State and trait differences among risk factors for suicidal behavior
  • Developmental changes in risk over time
  • Mechanisms associated with individual differences in risk over time
  • Co-occurrence of suicidal behavior and substance use problems
  • Heterogeneous developmental trajectories of suicidal behavior among adolescents and young adults

Longitudinal research has also examined the multiple impacts of adolescent suicidal behaviors on parents in the one year following hospitalization.

Representative Studies

Duke researchers have been involved in treatment development studies including:

  • Integrated cognitive behavioral relapse prevention intervention for youths with suicide attempts, depression, and substance use
  • Caregiver support and texting intervention for parents of suicidal youth
  • Adaptation of brief suicide interventions for use in schools, with different racial/ethnic groups, and in juvenile detention facilities

In collaboration with the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Duke researchers have adapted the Safety-Acute intervention for different populations and service settings and disseminated these interventions across the country. 

Multisite randomized controlled trials of interventions involving Duke investigators are studying optimal treatment strategies for different groups of college students at risk for suicidal behavior, and different groups of suicidal youth in emergency departments.  

Duke faculty have also contributed to the cross-site evaluation of the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Suicide Prevention Program, demonstrating that implementation is associated with decreased rates of suicide and decreased population base-rates of suicide attempts among young people. 


Click on a faculty member’s name to view their profile, including their grants and publications.

Suicide takes the lives of nearly 800,000 individuals each year globally; however, our ability to accurately predict who is at greatest risk for suicide remains a major challenge for the field of psychiatry. There is also far more work to be done to develop new treatments for at-risk individuals in addition to improving and disseminating existing treatments. 

Accordingly, Duke Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences faculty are involved in a wide range of research and program evaluation projects aimed at preventing suicide among adults; these projects span both basic and translational science.

Representative Studies

  • Leading many of the largest genetic association studies of suicide attempts and suicidal ideation to date. These studies have collectively identified numerous novel risk loci for suicidal thoughts and behaviors, as well as biological pathways of high clinical relevance. 
  • Developing and validating the Durham Risk Score for estimating suicide attempt risk, a highly promising new tool designed to significantly improve clinicians’ ability to identify patients at risk for suicide. In the initial validation study, Duke researchers found that the Durham Risk Score was a robust predictor of future suicide attempts in a validation cohort of more than 18,000 participants and demonstrated excellent predictive utility among a wide range of individuals, including women, men, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, veterans, lower-income individuals, younger adults and sexual minority individuals. 
  • Using program evaluation data to study the efficacy of different evidence-based psychotherapies for depression on suicidal ideation, which revealed that some forms of psychotherapy are associated with significantly greater decreases in suicidal ideation among men than others. 
  • Developing and disseminating a web-based training program designed to teach peer supporters the Safety Planning Intervention, a gold standard suicide prevention approach that has been shown to significantly reduce individuals’ risk for attempting suicide in the future. 


Click on a faculty member’s name to view their profile, including their grants and publications.

Duke Center for the Study of Suicide Prevention & Intervention

The Duke Center for the Study of Suicide Prevention & Intervention (CSSPI) represents a collaborative effort among several clinical research scientists at the Duke Child & Family Study Center to advance our understanding of the risk for suicidal behaviors and to reduce suicide attempts and suicide deaths.

The CSSPI has a three-part mission:

  • Scientifically sound and innovative research
  • The study of evidence-based prevention and intervention
  • Education

Learn More