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Dr. Robin Gearing Shares Expertise on Suicide Prevention

In response to a number of high-profile suicides in the news and requests from the community, GCSW Director of Continuing Education Ann Liberman tapped Robin Gearing Ph.D. an Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Mental Health Research and Innovations in Treatment Engagement and Services (MH-RITES Center) at GCSW to offer his expertise as a social work researcher and clinician to clinical professionals and practitioners in the Greater Houston area through a new day-long CE course, “Identifying, Assessing, and Treating Suicidal Behavior.”

“In social work, 20 percent of MSWs report having received any training during their graduate studies on suicide and over half of those students report receiving only approximately two hours of suicide specific content, overall,” Gearing said.

The eight-hour course assists social workers, clinical professionals, and licensed individuals in identifying, assessing, and managing the clinical risks associated with suicidal behavior as well as exposes them to the most recent empirical research regarding effective treatment of suicidal behavior.

As co-author of “Suicide Assessment and Treatment: Empirical and Evidence Based Practices,” a 2018 textbook for mental health professionals across all disciplines, Dana Alonzo Ph.D. and Gearing, provide suicide prevention and intervention resources and methodology for which training and education is often inadequate.

Clinicians, practitioners, and other mental health professionals who interact with adolescents can play a critically important role in keeping them safe. According to Gearing, “65% of direct mental health practice in the United States is provided by social workers. We know that social workers are going to experience clients who complete and attempt suicide. Research indicates that 93 percent of social workers report working with a suicidal client over the course of their career and 78 percent report working with a suicidal client in the last year. Many social work students also report working with clients with suicidal ideation behaviors during their internships.”

Suicide is a major public health concern. Everyday about 123 people in the U.S. take their own lives. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 45,000 people die by suicide each year in the U.S.; it is the 10th leading cause of death overall. Research shows that adolescents are at particularly high risk for suicide, especially between the ages 10-14 years old. Between 25 percent and 60 percent of adolescents have experienced suicide ideation at some period of time with almost nine percent attempting suicide in the last year.

“One of the core things that every clinician should do when meeting somebody over the age of 10 is assess if he or she is at risk of suicide. But we don’t. We may assume that the youth, or even older individuals, do not seem like the type to be suicidal, but the reality is there is no suicide type. It doesn’t matter the culture, the ethnicity, the age, the demographic factors, anyone can be at risk so it’s up to us to stop and assess each and every individual,” Gearing said.

Gearing stresses the importance of every clinician to be trained to identify those at risk of suicide and respond appropriately, including effective assessment, referral and/or treatment.

“In 2020 we’re estimated to have 1.53 million suicides each year across the world. We have the ability to change that and it doesn’t come from just giving out phone numbers and saying to call if you’re feeling suicidal. Researching the risk factors for youth suicide and improving evidence-based interventions for youth, specifically those adolescents with a major mood disorders. Identification, assessment, and treatment for youth at-risk for suicide can positively change the rising number of youth suicide, as well as improving the youth’s

trajectory and functioning over time, while reducing the burden on themselves, their families, and society. Every death due to suicide is tragic, and one is too many. We can keep younger people alive,” Gearing said.

View and register for GCSW CE Courses. 

Review and purchase Alonzo, D., & Gearing, R. E. (2018). Suicide assessment and treatment: Empirical and evidence-based practices, Second Edition. New York: Springer Publishing.