OU Health Sciences Center receives grant to expand suicide prevention program

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NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) – Officials at a local health sciences center have been awarded a $38 million grant in order to help expand a national suicide prevention program.

The University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center was awarded the five-year, $38 million grant to lead and expand a national program dedicated to suicide prevention.

The grant will be led by Dolores Subia BigFoot, Ph.D., a professor in the OU College of Medicine and a longtime researcher and organizer of suicide prevention efforts.

Organizers say that while suicide prevention has always been important, the grant is extremely timely as the country faces a plethora of stressors due the pandemic, economic downfall, and social issues.

“We’re coming into this at a very important time,” BigFoot said. “We’re in a new era in which the suicide risk may increase. We want to increase our resources and grow a network of safety for people at risk of suicide.”

Officials say people living in domestic violence situations, those who face poverty and persistent inequality in life, people who are elderly and people who live in rural communities are at the highest risk of suicide. The LGBTQ+ community and ethnic minorities also face a higher risk.

“By combining her medical knowledge and deep understanding of Native culture, Dr. Dee Bigfoot has expertly developed culturally responsive treatments to better serve Indigenous populations, who unfortunately face significant inequities in health care, including proper mental health support,” said OU President Joseph Harroz, Jr. “This transformative grant will amplify the scope of her important work across tribes and other vulnerable groups, literally saving lives and preserving communities and cultures.”

BigFoot says she hopes to make suicide screening part of standard practice across the board.

“Suicide may be an individual act, but it is the final act of something that has led to that point,” she said. “We need to continue to understand the dynamics that come into play – trauma, substance misuse, mental illness, family conditions. People have such a burden of mental anguish that they perceive suicide as being the only way to stop the pain. We need to understand that everyone who is suicidal is struggling with something on a regular basis. It’s not there one day and gone tomorrow.”

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