The Persistence of Research

In 1987, when a small group of families affected by suicide teamed up with researchers to form the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, so little was known about what leads people to take their own lives that we didn’t know the brain, or genetics, played a role in suicide. We also hadn’t yet established a link between access to lethal means and suicide prevention, and we didn't know that people experiencing a suicidal crisis have difficulty accessing their usual coping strategies. Most importantly, we didn’t know that suicide could be prevented.

We’ve come a long way since then.

Today, thanks to scientific research, we know that suicide is complex. We know there is no single cause that contributes to someone dying by suicide, and that biological, psychological, social, and environmental factors all contribute at both an individual and population level. We know that interactions involving neurotransmitters can lead to a lack of flexible thinking and difficulty in an individual seeing a way forward when faced with stressors. Through scientific research, we have developed treatments and interventions that can help people manage their suicidal thoughts and reduce suicidal behavior. We have learned that limiting access to lethal means is a highly effective method for preventing suicide.

We know, through these and other actions, that suicide can be prevented.

True scientific research – on any subject – is about persistence. It’s about asking questions and homing in on specific, targeted aspects of those questions. In this way, we can establish knowledge bit by bit and pave the way so that the next study can build on that knowledge. Research is about shining a light that gradually, persistently grows in both strength and depth, so that eventually – study after study – we can make further connections and understand things more and more clearly.

Today, it is through this persistence – and as the largest private funder of suicide prevention research – that AFSP leads the scientific community, helping to shape suicide prevention strategies around the world by funding, supporting, and influencing the most innovative, impactful, and forward-thinking researchers and studies.

AFSP cultivates a growing expert researcher community, and hosts a biennial international researcher conference through a partnership begun in 2013 with the International Academy of Suicide Research. We host topical and methodological webinars for researchers, and encourage research in underfunded areas. Through these efforts, we enable researchers to share their breakthrough ideas and findings, and form new partnerships for expanding and integrating scientific efforts around the globe. We have also set a priority for research about underrepresented communities and by researchers from diverse backgrounds.

Every day, we learn more about how we can save lives, all through the power of persistence.


invested in 747 studies since 1987


invested in 34 new studies in 2022

Investing in Research, and Shaping Our Understanding

The scientific grant applications AFSP receives each year are rigorously reviewed by our international team of Scientific Advisors, our Research Grants Committee, Scientific Council, and Board of Directors. We welcome a broad range of applications from a diverse group of researchers for Focus Grants – targeted, innovative, high-risk, potentially high-yield projects that seek to inform and even transform suicide prevention efforts – and Innovation Grants, which support pioneering work that will increase our understanding of suicide with an array of promising new areas of research.

Adding to our state-of-the-art research portfolio, our newest grants examine topics including:

  • providing relief with the use of ketamine for those experiencing a suicidal crisis
  • evaluating the impact of teen crisis lines
  • enhancing the role parents can play in the transition from inpatient to outpatient care
  • adapting a grief therapy specifically for suicide loss
  • implementing a multigenerational suicide prevention program in Black churches
  • understanding the role of brain inflammation in suicide risk
  • examining the role of multiple genes and gene expression regarding possible genetic contributions to suicide
  • evaluating suicide risk in older adults
  • reducing the risk of suicide among transgender and non-binary (TNB) people through community connectedness, identity pride, and psychotherapy
  • utilizing online technologies and machine learning in identifying suicidal thoughts and behaviors
  • combining genetic, health and treatment data using machine learning/artificial intelligence to learn more about suicide and predicting risk; and much more

Read in-depth information about this year’s grants here.

See how we measure our impact