by Dr Maria Michail
The international theme for World Suicide Prevention Day this year is ‘Creating hope through action’. Hope can mean different things to different people in different contexts. As a senior researcher in the field of suicide prevention, I find hope in the passion and dedication of our next generation of researchers working tirelessly, through their research, to improve the care and outcomes of people at-risk of suicide.
We asked our PhD students in the Self-harm and Suicide Prevention Research group at the Institute for Mental Health “How do you want your work to change the field of suicide prevention?”
Their reflections offer an insightful account into the challenges associated with their research but most importantly highlight the ambition and commitment of our early career researchers in creating a transformational change in the field of suicide prevention; and, this is what gives me hope.
Friends are often the main sources of support among adolescents who self-harm. My work aims to understand young people’s role and response to their friend’s self-harm, and its impact on individuals and friendships. I hope that this work will further encourage a consideration of the broader social environment beyond the individual. By understanding the role others can play in the experience of self-harm and the potential impact it can have on them, it will be possible to better equip and support them. In turn, I hope my research informs holistic approaches to suicide prevention, which consider individual but also social and relational factors. For instance, through educational interventions in schools we could raise awareness about self-harm and suicide whilst also teaching young people how to have safe and empathetic conversations with each other. Ultimately, this could help young people be more aware of their own wellbeing and the resources available to them.
My research looks at self-harm and suicidality in South Asian women. It is a mixed methods interdisciplinary PhD. Two ways in which I want my work to change the field of suicide prevention are by encouraging the use of a broader range of methodologies and perspectives, and by highlighting the need to focus on low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and diaspora populations. Suicidality and self-harm are complex; thus, it is critical that we engage in research involving both multidisciplinary and mixed method lenses. We need to ensure that we listen to the lived experiences voices and engage our participants in all stages of the research process. Moreover, suicide prevention needs more culturally nuanced research that not only limits work to high income countries but also responds and engages with the needs LMICs. It is also critical that we as a field push for the global decriminalisation of suicidality and self-harm.
In my PhD project, I research self-harm in adolescent dance students. To achieve an accurate understanding of mental health concerns, including self-harm, in dance students, we need to take into account the unique context of dance and its influence on mental health. We know that participating in dance recreationally can increase wellbeing, however, a recent study showed that 44.6% of students who study dance at university reported at least one mental health concern over the course of an academic year. By conducting this research, I aspire to add to our understanding of mental health concerns in the context of dance, with the ultimate aim of helping to build guidance to protect dance students at risk of self-harm.
I hope that my PhD research will aid the understanding of self-harm, with and without suicidal intention, among LGBTQ+ young people. In particular, risks and experiences which are associated with these thoughts and behaviours, and whether new methodology such as experience sampling is feasible with this population. From this work, I hope that we will be able to determine real-time influences to self-harm and pinpoint interventions within daily life to reduce self-harm thoughts and behaviours.