Last updated on November 2019

Combined TMS and Brief Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Reduce Suicide


Brief description of study

High rates of Veteran suicide remain a tragedy. Rates of Veteran suicide have not decreased for 10 years, despite the best efforts of the field. Those interventions that do exist have only modest effects, which are simply insufficient for the magnitude of the problem. This proposal will combine two treatments - brief cognitive behavioral therapy (BCBT) and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Both of these interventions can reduce suicide and are available at Veterans Affairs Medical Centers across the country, yet to date no one has combined these therapies. This proposal will test the effect of this combination, and, if successful, will lead to a novel yet implementable new treatment to reduce Veteran suicide.

Detailed Study Description

The goal of the proposed study is to test the effect of adding Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) to Brief Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (BCBT) to reduce Veterans' rates of suicide ideation and related behaviors. Over 20 Veterans die each day of suicide and rates have not appreciably decreased in the last ten years.

BCBT is a well-established and efficacious treatment that is an extension of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a treatment that is widely implemented across VA health care systems. However, not all patients respond to BCBT. Thus finding ways to enhance treatment efficacy for reducing suicide is critical. Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) may be an optimal treatment to use in conjunction with psychotherapy. TMS is a noninvasive technique that uses a pulsed magnetic field to induce neuronal depolarization in a targeted brain region, typically the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. TMS can reduce psychiatric symptoms associated with suicide risk in Veterans, including depression and PTSD. Furthermore, TMS is not associated with the systemic and costly side effects associated with medications used for these disorders (e.g., weight gain, diabetes, sexual side effects).

The primary objective of this study is to conduct a fully-powered randomized controlled trial evaluating the effect of adding a standard TMS course of treatment to BCBT to reduce suicide behaviors in a sample of Veterans hospitalized for suicide behavior. One hundred and thirty (130) Veterans admitted to the psychiatric unit for suicide ideation or attempts will be randomly assigned to either active TMS plus BCBT or to sham TMS plus BCBT. Participants will be assessed at baseline, post treatment, six, and 12 months post hospital discharge. Efficacy of the program will be determined by examining a primary suicide composite outcome and several secondary outcomes including suicide attempt, time to first attempt, number of re-hospitalizations and severity and severity of suicidal ideation. Secondary analyses will be conducted to help identify the types of patients who will receive the most benefit from the addition of TMS to BCBT Brief Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for suicide.

If successful, this study would result in a combined treatment to decrease suicide ideation and related behaviors. The proposal addresses HSRD post-deployment health priority, specifically suicide prevention and is innovative in that it will be the first study to examine efficacy of combined treatment specifically for suicide prevention.

Clinical Study Identifier: NCT03952468

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