Suicide Prevention Research

Why suicide prevention research matters. 

Suicide is a growing health epidemic in Canada, and is a major cause of premature and preventable death. 

Across the country, over 4,000 people die by suicide every year – that’s over 10 deaths every single day. Among those aged 15-34, suicide is the second leading cause of death, preceded only by accidents. 

Although stigma around mental illness and suicide continues to lessen – and more people are coming forward to seek help for depression and related conditions – many people do not respond adequately to currently available treatments. 

We know that if we can detect mental illness early, however, we can prevent it – which is why early intervention and prevention strategies are particularly important priorities for The Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research (IMHR).  

Research can help to determine the causes of suicide; the biological, social and environmental factors that increase or decrease the risk for suicide; and the factors that could be modified or altered through evidence-informed interventions. 

Through the development and implementation of evidence-informed prediction and prevention strategies, we can intervene early and save many lives. 

Suicide can be prevented. Innovative research can help us understand how.  

“Just like heart disease or cancer, depression is an illness. Mental illness is not just “in the mind”, and it’s not something that you can “power through”. This is something that is becoming more and more apparent, the more we understand the biology of mental illness and suicide. This understanding is helping us to de-stigmatize suicide, and encourage people to seek help.”
- Dr. Zachary Kaminsky

What we do. 

In 2018, the IMHR established its Suicide Prevention Research Unit, and welcomed Dr. Zachary Kaminsky as the inaugural holder of our DIFD Mach-Gaensslen Chair in Suicide Prevention Research. 

As Chair, Dr. Kaminsky’s overarching goal is to contribute to developing new and innovative ways to predict suicide risk and help lower suicide rates, through predictive analytics and early intervention tools and strategies. 

Since his arrival from Johns Hopkins, Dr. Kaminsky has already pioneered the development of a cutting-edge tool that uses artificial intelligence to identify Twitter users at high risk of suicide. 

Dr. Kaminsky, a molecular biologist, has also discovered chemical alterations in two genes – one in a gene that indicates a high risk of postpartum depression, and another in a gene that indicates a high risk of suicide. 

In the future, he hopes to develop a clinical blood test that would predict suicide risk early, and help save countless lives by getting people the help they need quickly – perhaps before they even realize they’re suicidal. 

Research Focus: 

  • Development and integration of artificial intelligence to determine mental health risk from social media data;
  • Understanding the molecular, epigenetic underpinnings of mental illness;
  • Development of disease predictive biomarkers through DNA – specifically, epigenetic marks in relation to suicide and post-partum depression