Austen Riggs Center Researcher Dr. Katie Lewis Receives Major Grant from American Foundation for Suicide Prevention



Stockbridge, MA – November 28, 2018–  Katie Lewis, PhD, research psychologist at the Austen Riggs Center, has received the competitive Young Investigator Innovation Grant from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) for her study: “Impact of Interpersonal Experiences on Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors.” Dr. Lewis’ study was one of fewer than ten chosen out of 175 applications. 

Dr. Lewis’ study seeks to understand the ways in which daily interpersonal experiences and momentary interpersonal ruptures influence the development of suicidal ideation and engagement in self-destructive behaviors, in individuals diagnosed with severe and persistent mental illness. As part of this grant, Dr. Lewis will have the opportunity to work with the esteemed Dr. Thomas Joiner, a leading expert on suicide. 

Despite ongoing research and the development of intervention programs:

  • suicide rates have consistently increased over the last 15 years;
  • the presence of identified risk factors alone has been shown to carry poor predictive value for suicidal behavior when considered at the individual level; 
  • there have been few studies of how daily interpersonal interactions affect suicidal ideation and behavior; and
  • little is known about whether momentary interpersonal ruptures in daily life are associated with proximal increases in suicide risk.

For these reasons, achieving a greater understanding of the immediate impact of interpersonal experiences on suicidal thoughts and behaviors is essential, as interpersonal interactions are ubiquitous and the quality of interpersonal relationships is highly amenable to improvement through psychiatric treatment. 

According to Dr. Lewis, “The proposed study will be the first of its kind to examine the impact of interpersonal experiences and momentary interpersonal ruptures on the development of suicidal ideation and self-destructive behavior, in real time over the course of fourteen consecutive days. Findings from this study will contribute to knowledge about the influence of daily interpersonal exchanges on risk and resilience in suicidal individuals.” 

Referencing Dr. Lewis’ study, the AFSP reviewers noted, “. . . this is an excellent application of Interpersonal Theory of suicidal ideation and behavior. This is an important study for suicide prevention.” 

This study is part of a broader Suicide Research and Education Strategic Initiative, which extends Riggs’ ongoing efforts to study the process of suicide, as individual, interpersonal, developmental, biological, sociocultural, and psychological phenomena. 

About the Austen Riggs Center

Austen Riggs Center, a leading psychiatric hospital and residential treatment program, has been serving adults since 1919. Within an open setting, patients inhabit an intensive treatment milieu that emphasizes respectful engagement. Individual psychodynamic psychotherapy is provided four times a week by doctors on staff. The Erikson Institute for Education and Research of the Austen Riggs Center studies individuals in their social contexts through research, training, education, and outreach programs in the local community and beyond.

The Austen Riggs Center, located in Stockbridge, MA, is ranked a top ten “Best Hospital in Psychiatry” by U.S. News & World Report. For more information about its services, please call 413.298.5511 or 800.517.4447 or visit www.austenriggs.org.

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