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Resources :: Guide :: Vulnerable and risk sensitive participants :: Risk-sensitive populations :: Suicide threat :: Including suicidal participants

Including Suicidal or Previously Suicidal Participants

Loss of confidentiality is often the most serious risk for these types of studies. Understanding the participant’s situation will help you to anticipate how to protect his or her confidentiality. For someone who is suicidal or had previous attempts, they may be working towards healing and finding solutions for dealing with their suicidal triggers. The participant may not be ready to divulge to family, friends, coworkers, etc, that he or she had a suicide attempt or has suicidal thoughts, so keeping this information private is essential. It is important that you consider how to approach the victim about the study, where the study will take place, and how the data are collected and stored so that confidentiality will be protected.
There may be instances in which confidentiality has to be compromised. If you learn of new instances of a suicide attempt, the Board will want you to have a protocol in place so that you can help the individual find the assistance they need, which may result in a breach of confidentiality. If you will ask the victim questions about illegal behaviors, such as drug use, etc, you may need to obtain a certificate of confidentiality. If it is likely that they will tell you this information and it isn’t in the scope of your study, you need to have a procedure so that this information is not documented; for example, if you are conducting an interview, start the interview by instructing the participant not to include information about illegal behaviors in the interview. If it comes up anyway, you could stop the interview, remind the participant not to provide the information about illegal behaviors, and erase that part of the interview.

If the potential exists that you may have to compromise confidentiality, you should provide this information in the consent form in the “Confidentiality” section; provide the participants with specifics about what would prompt you to break confidentiality and what information will be shared. For example, see the sample text below:

Confidentiality (please modify so that it is appropriate for the participants’ reading level): I have ethical obligations to contact individuals to help you if you should threaten to harm yourself.  If keeping information obtained in this study private would immediately put you in danger, I will release that information to protect you.

Please note that if your study involves a minor and/or an individual with diminished capacity to consent, you need to provide the participant with an assent form and the appropriate parent/surrogate with a consent form.

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