Brief Gatekeeper Training for Suicide Prevention in an Ethnic Minority Population: A Controlled Intervention

Award Type:
Funding Agency: University of Michigan - Michigan
Role on Project: Co-Principal Investigator

The suicide problem is especially acute in Japan, where there are approximately 30,000 verified deaths by suicide each year, a number similar to the U.S. despite less than half the population. The suicide problem is an inescapable reality in Japan, but it is rarely discussed openly because it is largely a mental health problem. Stigma toward mental illnesses is the norm rather than the exception, and this is especially so in Asian cultures such as Japan. Moreover, popular portrayals of mental illness such as in film are often caricatured or even grossly inaccurate.

Film and television programs may even play a significant role in changing health behaviors, such as reducing teen birth. Including content experts to further elaborate and educate others on mental health issues can provide further benefit. Saving 10,000 is an hour-long documentary that provides a thoughtful exploration of the suicide epidemic in Japan. Since its recent debut, it has received major media and public attention, as well as critical acclaim at several film festivals. This project is for the analysis of data collected during a suicide prevention activity. The activity featured the documentary Saving 10,000 and was modeled after a previous successful film event held in the fall of 2012. The event also led to academic scholarship in the form of a research manuscript.

We held a similar public film event, with content covering mental health aspects of social withdrawal, and analyzed responses to post-event surveys. In addition to collecting information on demographics, surveys included sections on knowledge and intended behaviors related to social withdrawal. Of the 163 participants, 115 (70.6%) completed surveys. Most of the sample deemed social withdrawal a significant mental health issue. Regarding post-event intended behaviors, 90.2% reported intent to get more information, 48.0% to being vigilant for social withdrawal in others, and 19.6% to talking with a health care professional about concerns for social withdrawal in themselves or someone they knew. Asian participants were significantly more likely than non-Asians to intend to encourage help-seeking for social withdrawal (p = .001). Findings of this study suggested public film events may be a creative way to improve mental health awareness and treatment-seeking.

Knowledge obtained may benefit other people (including Veterans) in the future. This study will identify how a suicide prevention activity affects gatekeeper knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors. We will improve our understanding of the role of community gate-keepers in suicide prevention. The risk to participants, as described above, is minimal and the proposed study has the potential to considerably improve health outcomes for Veterans as well as the general population.