Melinda Moore is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Eastern Kentucky University. Within her field of study, Moore focuses on suicide prevention and substance abuse, two areas that she feels are very much related.
“People resort to suicide to escape the psychological pain they are experiencing, it’s a maladaptive form of coping, much like excessive drinking and taking drugs,” said Moore, “It’s not a moral failing, it’s a skill deficit.”
Moore said we won’t know until data are collected if suicide was more prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has changed what "normal" looks like across the globe since March. “We will not know for two years, when CDC releases the data, what the suicide rates will be during COVID-19. What we do know is that there is evidence that economic downturns may lead to higher numbers of suicide deaths, like we saw in 2008 with the economic recession.”
Moore believes strongly in individuals’ resilience in the face of the global pandemic and concluded, “I think we are seeing a number of people reaching out to crisis intervention services because they are experiencing suicidal ideation, but not necessarily engaging in suicidal behavior. That’s good and why we need to continue talking about suicide and resources that exist to help.”
Moore did not expect to end up in this field. She was working in public health in the 1990s when she had a personal experience with suicide. After that, she realized that suicide was not a priority in public health, and that needed to change.
Moore earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from The Catholic University of America in 2012. Under her professor and mentor, Dr. David Jobes, she began training and conducting research in the Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality (CAMS). CAMS helps assess and treat a patient’s risk of suicide. Moore travels world-wide to train clinicians in this therapeutic framework.
“It’s been a long road but it’s been very gratifying,” she said.
Moore served as the principal investigator on the federally-funded EKU Suicide Awareness and Focus on Education (EKU SAFE) grant. EKU SAFE provided training, outreach, and awareness events for suicide education and prevention on campus at EKU. A website dedicated to suicide prevention at EKU was developed through this grant and can be found at https://suicideprevention.eku.edu/.
The grant also developed novel education and outreach events. “Every year around World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10 we organize Artvention, an event that allows people who have been affected by suicide to come together and address their experience through art therapy,” she said. “This year ArtVention was held virtually and, in a partnership with the American Association of Suicidology, had participants from across the United States.”
Moore has imbedded a suicide class in the Psy.D program at EKU titled, “Understanding Suicide: From Assessment to Intervention and Management.” This course teaches graduate students in the clinical psychology program how to truly understand suicide and trains them in how to effectively treat it through CAMS.
“It’s the number one psychiatric emergency, but most mental health professionals have had little to no training to understand or even treat it,” she said.
After being thoroughly trained in CAMS, graduate students in the clinical psychology program are able to get real world experience by treating suicidal students and community members in EKU’s on-campus psychology clinic. Last spring, when the university closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the suicide-focused services were transitioned to online services. The clinic has become a national model for suicide-focused treatment using an electronic platform. Moore also facilitates a suicide bereavement group on campus, in order to address the needs of people most affected by suicide.
Moore said she believes we are making the right steps towards a better understanding of suicide.
“It’s a matter of breaking down barriers, making sure various communities are working together,” she said, “It’s about extending compassion to ourselves and to the people who we see are struggling.”
If you or someone you know may be experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Crisis Textline at 741741. The EKU Psychology Clinic offers suicide-focused treatment. For more information about suicide prevention at EKU, visit https://suicideprevention.eku.edu/.