Ethical Issues and Practical Challenges in Suicide Research: Collaboration With Institutional Review Boards

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Abstract

Background: Research with human subjects represents a critical avenue for suicide prevention efforts; however, such research is not without its ethical and practical challenges. Specifically, given the nature of research with individuals at elevated risk for suicide (e.g., increased concerns regarding participant safety, adverse events, liability, difficulties often arise during the institutional review board (IRB) evaluation and approval process. Aims: This paper aims to discuss IRB-related issues associated with suicide prevention research, including researcher and IRB panel member responsibilities, suicide risk assessment and management ethics and procedures, informed consent considerations, preparation of study protocols, and education and training. Points to consider and components to potentially include in an IRB application for suicide-related research are additionally provided. Method: Literature relevant to ethics in suicide research and suicide risk assessment and management was reviewed and synthesized. Results: Suicide research can be conducted in accordance with ethical principles while also furthering the science of suicide prevention. Conclusion: Despite the challenging nature of suicide prevention research, empirically informed solutions exist to address difficulties that may emerge in interfacing with IRBs. There remain areas for improvement in the IRB approval process that warrant further investigation and work.

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