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Suicide and Emotion Dysregulation Laboratory Engaged In Research, Pursuing Community Outreach Opportunities

Tue, 11/26/2019 - 08:50am | By: David Tisdale

Developing a better understanding of what puts people at risk for suicide, and what can be done to prevent that outcome in the military and among civilians, is a primary research objective of the Suicide and Emotion Dysregulation Laboratory (SEDL), housed in The University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) School of Psychology. 

Launched in 2012, the SEDL’s current research efforts examine the role of firearms in suicide risk, managing clinical trials that examine firearm access. Dr. Michael Anestis, a USM associate professor of psychology and director of the lab, sees the SEDL as an opportunity to “train young scientists to become better at their craft and civic-minded, engaging with their communities and reaching out to speak outside of traditional academic channels, advocating for causes that matter to them.”

“Along those lines,” Dr. Anestis continued, “the lab has dramatically increased its involvement in such activities, with the hope of having our work reach those who need it, and not get lost in peer reviewed journals that never reach the public.”

Dr. Anestis currently has four doctoral students assisting him in the lab, and two who are on their pre-doctoral internship (a requirement for all clinical psychology programs, the equivalent to residency for medical school). A full-time project manager and three recent graduates of the clinical psychology doctoral program serve also as contributors to the lab’s research efforts.

The research of Samantha Daruwala, a third-year doctoral student in the SEDL from Gaithersburg, Maryland, focuses on understanding means safety interventions for firearm owners as well as military suicide prevention. Since joining the lab, Daruwala has also served as a clinician for Dr. Anestis’s Military Suicide Research Consortium (MSRC) - funded means-safety clinical trial for more than a year, and provide means-safety counseling to National Guard members. 

While the SEDL is research-focused, Daruwala said it also embraces local outreach. “Our lab is in the process of becoming more involved in our local community, and hopes to provide resources on means safety and suicide risk to schools and medical settings,” she said.

A noted meta-analysis conducted in the U.S. that was the basis for an article in the American Psychological Association’s Psychological Bulletin (“Risk Factors for Suicidal Thoughts and Behaviors: A Meta-Analysis of 50 Years of Research,” 2017), found that the suicide prevention field is no better now at predicting who will become suicidal, according to Daruwala, giving her “more reason to appreciate the lab’s (SEDL) perspective of focusing on the practical capability for suicide (i.e., access to lethal means), rather than the risk factors contributing to suicidal thoughts and behaviors.”

“This way, we can help decrease risk for individuals, even if we do not know that they are suicidal,” she said.

Daruwala is planning on a career as a higher-education faculty member who mentors students on military suicide prevention research, as well as serving as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on suicide prevention.

“In these roles, I would like to continue interacting with service members to better understand their perspectives, the military culture, and serve as a source of support,” she said. 

Dr. Anestis says he wants students in the lab to go on to “make a difference in the world - do some good - and lend their voice to the cause of suicide prevention, in one way or another.”

“Maybe that’s as a faculty member like me, but maybe it’s also as a clinician, or a member of an advocacy group working to end gun violence,” he said. “The landscape of academia is shifting, and I want my folks prepared to navigate that.”

For more information about the SEDL and the USM School of Psychology, visit