First-Ever National Research Agenda for Suicide Prevention Aligns Research Priorities to Save More Lives

February 5, 2014

A call to action to advance suicide prevention field

Washington, DC— A Task Force of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (Action Alliance) today released a first-of-its-kind national action plan, A Prioritized Research Agenda for Suicide Prevention: An Action Plan to Save Lives, aimed at prioritizing suicide prevention research. A three-year intensive and collaborative effort by the Action Alliance’s Research Prioritization Task Force (RPTF), the Prioritized Research Agenda is a call to action to the suicide prevention field to align efforts and more directly prevent suicide attempts and save lives.

Given challenging budget environments, more rapid progress can only happen if the following are prioritized: Linking research efforts to organizational settings and population groups to reach those most at risk; prioritizing funding for studies that have the greatest impact on burden; and supporting the use of common measures to facilitate sharing and/or combining data across studies with appropriate consent and privacy protections. By using a common strategy, all funders of suicide prevention research can support studies more wisely.

Because overall suicide rates have not declined, the RPTF set itself the ambitious goal of identifying research that would best contribute to the reduction of suicides by 20% in five years and 40% in ten years if multiple approaches were optimally and fully implemented. While knowing that developing, testing, and implementing effective interventions expands beyond this time frame, the RPTF developed examples of how research-informed interventions could, potentially, be fully implemented at a population level and applied to save lives. In developing these examples, the RPTF and research experts identified research gaps that also became a part of the Prioritized Research Agenda.

“This agenda will be particularly useful for NIMH, its sister Institutes, and private sector funders in making strategic suicide prevention research investments aimed at reducing the burden of suicide attempts and deaths,” said Thomas Insel, MD, public sector co-lead of the RPTF and Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). “The agenda pushes the need for more efficient use of data, as well as research to be conducted, by identifying opportunities for common data elements and efficient ways to test interventions.” 

Following the initial work of the National Council for Suicide Prevention, the work of the RPTF included a stakeholder survey, a literature review, burden calculations among subpopulations, analyses of methodological barriers to breakthroughs in suicide prevention research, and the final integration of these inputs to enable the prioritization of the research pathways and objectives. Further, the Prioritized Research Agenda outlines 30 research objectives and more than 80 research pathways, and addresses Goal 12.1 of the 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention [].

“This Task Force sought wisdom from experienced and invested suicide prevention stakeholders, who shared their aspirational research goals that they felt would most rapidly decrease suicide attempts and deaths. By considering opportunities where we could better reach those who are at risk for suicide, this agenda aligns research priorities with suicide burden. The agenda is a call to action for researchers, funders, family members, and other important stakeholders,” said Phillip Satow, private sector co-lead of the RPTF and Chairman of the Board of The Jed Foundation. “We hope that each stakeholder group will review this document and take from it what they can do on an individual and/or organizational level to push the field of suicide research forward so that lives can be saved.”

It is estimated that over half of all Americans know someone who has attempted or died by suicide. As many as 1 in 5 Americans report being survivors of suicide loss; that is, someone whose life has been intimately and directly affected by a suicide of a family member, friend, fellow student or co-worker. Key stakeholders in the suicide prevention field—clinicians, researchers, leaders, as well as survivors of suicide loss, suicide attempt survivors and their support systems—are being asked to advance the objectives of the Prioritized Research Agenda in making strategic suicide prevention decisions and developing interventions.

“We are indebted to many of our nation’s top mental health and public health scientists who have consulted with the Research Prioritization Task Force. They have dedicated three years of their time and expertise to produce a prioritized research agenda that has the potential to propel the suicide prevention field forward,” said Doryn Chervin, Dr.P.H., Executive Secretary of the Action Alliance and Vice President and Senior Scientist in the Education Development Center, Inc.’s Health and Human Development Division. “The Action Alliance’s overall goal is to reduce suicides by 20,000 in five years. This research agenda will play a key role in achieving that goal.” 

A Prioritized Research Agenda for Suicide Prevention: An Action Plan to Save Lives,and its companion document summarizing the research needed, Suicide Research Prioritization Plan of Action, are available for electronic download at

For more information, visit for other products of RPTF, and a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) document about the Prioritized Research Agenda.

The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention ( is the public-private partnership working to advance the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention and make suicide prevention a national priority. Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC) operates the Secretariat for the Action Alliance, which was launched in 2010 by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates with the goal of saving 20,000 lives in five years. Contact: Eileen Sexton, Director of Communications, 202-572-5383,