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Original Research

The Challenge of Clinical Research and Suicidality: Participant Feedback on a Safety Protocol

Rachel Vanderkruik, PhD, MSca,*; Marlene P. Freeman, MDa; Katherine A. Dunn, BSa; Charlotte A. Clifford, BAa; Sona Dimidjian, PhDb; and Lee S. Cohen, MDa

Published: May 15, 2023


Objective: Clinical studies of depression have historically excluded participants with suicidal ideation. Research participant safety protocols are critical to allow for the much-needed study of suicide risk. This report summarizes participant feedback about the safety protocol used in a national, remote study of perinatal women with suicidal ideation.

Methods: Upon completion of the study, participants who had triggered the suicidality safety protocol during the study were invited to complete a brief survey with questions about their experiences with the protocol. The survey included 4 Likert-scale questions and 1 open text question where participants could provide feedback, suggestions, and comments to the research team. Participant feedback survey data were collected between October 2021 and April 2022, and this research was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

Results: Of the 45 participants enrolled in the UPWARD-S study, 16 triggered the safety protocol. All eligible participants (N = 16) completed the survey. Among respondents, most were at least neutral to very comfortable with the call from the study psychiatrist (75% [n = 12]) and reported that the call had a “positive impact” on their well-being (69% [n = 11]). After the call with the study psychiatrist, 50% of participants (n = 8) reported that they increased engagement with treatment for depression, and the other 50% reported no change in treatment. We also report on themes from the qualitative feedback regarding suggestions of how to modify or improve the safety protocol.

Conclusions: Learning from the experiences of research participants will provide unique insight into satisfaction with, and impact of, the implemented suicidality safety protocol. Findings from this study could inform the refinement and implementation of safety protocols used in depression studies as well as future research on the impact of such protocols.

Volume: 84

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