University of Manchester: Trial of new treatment to prevent student suicide launches

A clinical trial has been launched to study a new kind of talking therapy for students who struggle with suicidal thoughts and feelings.



The MISST (Mental Imagery for Suicidality in Students Trial) is a collaboration between Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, University of Lancaster, and The University of Manchester.



It is funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR), the research partner of the NHS, public health and social care.



Moving away from home, academic stress, and financial pressures can all impact on students, who sometimes struggle with their mental health at university.



A previous study found that up to 42% of students thought about suicide in the previous 12 months.



Universities offer counselling and mental health services which are a source of support and help for struggling students, however, further effective therapies for preventing suicide are still needed.



MISST focuses on a novel talking therapy that is designed to help strengthen a person’s ability to recall and relive positive memories.



the therapy is used as a way to counter the spiral of negative thoughts and feelings that can lead to suicidal thoughts.






This is a first step, but an important one. This trial will give us the information we need to plan what we call a “definitive trial”, one that will then tell us how effective the therapy is. The aim is to work towards having effective therapies available for universities to help prevent student suicide


Dr Peter Taylor


Psychologists argue that by having the therapy, a person may be able to strengthen their ability to break free of spiralling negative thoughts by immersing themselves in memories of more positive times.

Co-Principal Investigator Dr Jasper Palmier-Claus from Lancaster University said: “When people are suicidal, we know it can be hard for them to focus on positive experiences in the past, or imagine positive experiences in the future. There is a sort of tunnel-vision. The therapy aims to help people break free from this state by re-connecting with positive experiences in their life.”

The trial will aim to test the therapy with students studying in the North-West of England, who have had recent difficulties with suicidal thoughts or behaviour.

Participants will be randomly put into a group to either receive the new therapy, or regular treatment through their university counselling or support services.

MISST is a feasibility trial, which means the aim is to determine if a more powerful large-scale clinical trial would be possible to run. This includes checking what students think about the therapy and whether it is possible to recruit people to take part.

Co-Principal Investigator Dr Peter Taylor from The University of Manchester said: “This is a first step, but an important one. This trial will give us the information we need to plan what we call a “definitive trial”, one that will then tell us how effective the therapy is. The aim is to work towards having effective therapies available for universities to help prevent student suicide.”

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