May 8, 2019: Dr. Greg Simon Receives National Suicide Prevention Award

At the Lifesavers Gala in New York last night, Dr. Greg Simon received the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP’s) Research Award for his contributions to suicide prevention. Dr. Simon leads the Suicide Prevention Outreach Trial (SPOT), an NIH Collaboratory Demonstration Project that builds on previous work demonstrating that patients who answer “yes” to thoughts of self-harm on routinely administered PHQ-9 questionnaires at primary care visits are more likely to attempt suicide. For these high-risk patients, SPOT explores different modes of outreach (care management or online skills training versus usual care) to prevent suicide.

“There’s a conspiracy of silence around suicidal thoughts, because it’s awkward to discuss. So we’ve found that we have to incorporate talking about it into our standard care. Our suicide prevention work is a great example of how research and care keep influencing each other to improve our patients’ health. When research springs from clinicians’ and patients’ questions, ‘learning health systems’ can put results into practice much faster than the oft-cited 17-year lag.” — Dr. Greg Simon, from the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute Press Release

Dr. Simon and his colleagues are also studying how machine-learning models can be used to predict risk of suicide. The models combine the PHQ-9 mental health questionnaire responses with information from electronic health records, including prior suicide attempts and mental health and substance use diagnoses. In a blog post regarding his research (and recent publication) on machine learning, Dr. Simon compares machine learning to warning lights on cars:

Our paper prompted many questions from clinicians and health system leaders about the practical utility of risk predictions:

“Are machine learning algorithms accurate enough to replace clinicians’ judgment?” our clinical partners asked.

“No,” I answered, “but they are accurate enough to direct clinicians’ attention.”

The AFSP also honored four others, including Anderson Cooper, a CNN and 60-minutes correspondent, and Kate Snow, an NBC news correspondent, for their work raising public awareness of suicide prevention.

Read more about what inspired Dr. Simon to study mental health.

Groundbreaking Suicide Prevention Trial has Enrolled Initial Patients

March 5, 2015

Dr. Greg Simon and the Suicide Prevention Team have enrolled the first participants in the Pragmatic Trial of Population-Based Programs to Prevent Suicide Attempt. This groundbreaking study was developed by researchers at Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, Washington, Health Partners Medical Group in Minnesota, and Kaiser Permanente of Colorado, in collaboration with patients who have experienced suicidal thoughts or survived suicide attempts themselves.

Over 9 million adults in the United States experience suicidal thoughts, and more than 1 million adults attempt suicide each year. However, patients at risk for suicidal behavior are not routinely identified, and successful interventions for depression and suicide are not routinely implemented. New evidence suggests that patients who report frequent thoughts of death or self-harm on a commonly-used depression questionnaire are at higher risk for suicide attempt and death over the following year.

This study aims to address the significant problem of suicide by identifying patients who are at risk for suicidal behavior and testing two suicide prevention strategies. Patients at participating institutions will complete a standard depression severity questionnaire during routine clinical care, and the results will be stored in their electronic health records (EHR). Investigators will use the responses in the EHR to identify at-risk individuals, and once identified, the patients will be randomly assigned to either usual care or to two treatment programs. The first is a collaborative care-management approach; the second is an online skills training program called “Now Matters Now,” which is designed to help people manage painful emotions and stressful situations.

Over the next 5 years, the team plans to enroll 19,500 adult patients. The study is an NIH Collaboratory Demonstration Project being overseen by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

Congratulations to Dr. Simon and his team for their achievement!