University of Kentucky professor helps state garner suicide prevention grant

The Commonwealth of Kentucky recently was notified it was awarded one of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grants for suicide prevention presented to 11 states across the country. The grant provides $400,000 a year for three years and aims to dramatically improve Kentucky's youth suicide prevention services. The grant was submitted by the Kentucky Department for Mental Health and Mental Retardation Services (KDMHMRS) with support of the Kentucky Suicide Prevention Group (KSPG). Julie Cerel, an assistant professor in the University of Kentucky College of Social Work and KSPG vice-chair, was instrumental in the grant submission and will serve as the grant's evaluation director.

Last year, more than 1.8 million youth in the U.S. admitted to suicidal thoughts during major episodes of depression, and 712,000 attempted suicide. According to the Department for Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kentucky averages 502 suicide deaths a year since 1981. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people age 15 to 34, third for ages 10 to 14 in the state. Kentucky has the 12th highest suicide rate in the nation.

"Suicide is a preventable tragedy for individuals, for families and for communities," said Eric Broderick, assistant surgeon general and acting deputy administrator of SAMHSA. "These grants to programs across the country are an important part of the solution to suicide in our nation."

KDMHMRS, as recipient of the state's grant, will execute the Kentucky Suicide Prevention in Youth - a Collaborative Effort (SPYCE) project, which includes both public and professional education on suicide risk factors and protective factors for suicide prevention, as well as training in prevention, early intervention and postvention methods. Cerel and a social work graduate student will help implement the state programs and develop ways to evaluate how grant-funded suicide prevention efforts change public awareness, professional practice, suicidal behavior in youth, and services for those family members who survive a suicide.

The purpose of the SPYCE project will be to raise awareness, enhance quality interventions, and utilize effective research and data collection methodologies to ultimately reduce the number of suicides completed by Kentucky youth. SPYCE will use a public health model of prevention with universal, selective and indicated approaches to address the following goals:

  • increasing knowledge of suicide warning signs, risk factors, and protective factors;

  • enhancing suicide crisis intervention availability, quality and public awareness of service;

  • increasing local community collaboration in suicide prevention;

  • establishing and increasing support for suicide survivors through postvention and prevention;

  • increasing resiliency among youth at risk;

  • enhancing existing emergency department services for youth and their families to increase culturally and linguistically-sensitive training regarding ways to reduce future self-injurious behavior through reduction of lethal means and by reducing stigma to seek treatment; and

  • providing additional training in clinical suicide risk management to medical/mental health professionals and paraprofessionals across the state.

Many activities will be implemented across the state, while others will be focused within one community mental health center region to be chosen through an application process.

"Kentucky recognizes the tremendous need to raise awareness and strengthen programs for suicide prevention. I commend the staff at the Department for Mental Health and Mental Retardation Services as well as Dr. Cerel for their efforts to obtain this grant funding, which will greatly strengthen our capacity to respond to the needs of those who've contemplated suicide, or have lost loved ones to this tragedy," said Dr. William Hacker, undersecretary for health and public health commissioner at the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. "Ultimately, we hope, this will reduce the number of suicide attempts and deaths in the Commonwealth."

Cerel's interest in suicide prevention began as she studied child bereavement in graduate school. Noting how little was known about helping suicide survivors, especially children, she began focusing on suicide prevention and efforts helping survivors. After earning her clinical psychology doctoral degree from The Ohio State University, Cerel interned and held a clinical fellowship in child clinical psychology at West Virginia University, as well as a three-year postdoctoral fellowship in suicide prevention at University of Rochester.

Cerel became involved in Kentucky's suicide prevention efforts after coming to UK. She has shared her expertise to help make the state healthier and better educated on suicide prevention methods that target youth, which mirrors UK's goal to become a Top 20 public research institution by advancing the state and its citizens. In 2005, Cerel was elected to the Kentucky Suicide Prevention Group executive committee, part of the state taskforce. Her recent UK Summer Faculty Research Fellowship continues her work with suicide survivors as she collaborates with Frank Campbell, an international expert on suicide survivors who has developed an "active postvention" that reaches out to families at the time a suicide occurs. Not only does Cerel's research aim to determine how Campbell's active postvention approach for suicide survivors helps those in post-Katrina Baton Rouge, as part of the SAMHSA project, she hopes to show how this type of active postvention might work in Kentucky. She continues to publish child bereavement research, teaches a child assessment and treatment class, and serves as part of UK's Comprehensive Assessment and Training Services (CATS) clinical staff.


For more information on Kentucky's suicide prevention initiatives, contact Cerel at (859) 257-8602 or by e-mail at [email protected].

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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