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Study could help people dealing with suicide loss

Vivien Leigh (NEWS CENTER Maine)

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Published: 7/7/2017 9:14:51 PM
Updated: 9:14 PM EDT July 7, 2017

PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — More than 1 million people attempt suicide every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Experts say Maine's suicide rate, like that of the nation, is trending upwards.

It's also been reported that family members of someone who has taken their life are also at risk.

Researchers at Columbia University in New York are trying to figure out how people cope with loss and develop a new treatment to help those who are grieving.

The last time Cathy Streifel saw her brother Jason was when they watched the 2015 Super Bowl. A week later, he took his life. Streifel was in shock.

Jasons' death came as a total surprise. He had a successful business, a wife, and a daughter. On the outside, everything in the 43-year-old's life looked normal. Later his family learned he had been struggling with mental health problems — and not knowing added to the devastation of their heartache.

Looking for an outlet for her pain and to find ways to keep it from happening to others, Streifel joined American Foundation For Suicide Prevention.

One of those ways was volunteering for a first-of-its-kind study conducted by Columbia University in New York.

The study involved about 20 people who have recently lost loved ones to suicide and about the same number who lost someone to another cause. The purpose: to find out more about how people deal psychologically with a loss like suicide.

But it also meant Streifel had to relive some of those painful memories all over again.

Streifel had to undergo two different MRIs — one looked at the structure of the brain, and the second one scanned the function of the brain while she looked at three different pictures of her brother. Dr. Noam Schneck is the clinical psychologist conducting the study.

"When they see pictures and stories and reminders of the lost, we are trying to capture what the brain looks like and what it's thinking," said Dr. Schneck.

Schneck said using these scans researchers can track thoughts of the loved ones as happen in the brain. He said it also shows how the brain controls thoughts about the loss. Some participants are able to move on and focus on something else and, over time, that helps people process their grief.

The treatment would involve neurofeedback, which helps the brain function more efficiently, It could guide people back to stability after a loss, potentially lowering their risk for suicide,

Streifel said if the treatment becomes available one day she will be the first in line.

If you would like more information about the study, which was funded by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, you can find it here.

Do you want to volunteer? Find out how here.

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