In Northern Ireland, approx. 27% of those who die by suicide are known to mental health services . Conflict-related trauma  and medication  also impact on suicidal behaviour here demonstrating the need for a bespoke approach to suicide prevention in the region and the analysis of interventions in NI. Health and Social Care Trusts here have agreed to introduce the internationally known Zero Suicide (ZS) approach4 as a patient safety collaborative programme seeking transformational change to reduce suicidal behaviour and deaths among people known to services.

ZS takes a “whole-systems”, data driven approach, managing the patient journey from first contact, service engagement, and discharge. In Mersey Care the ZS culture of managing suicide risk reportedly reduced their Trust suicide rate by 23%.  Other ZS programmes have delivered impressive results in the US and are now showing promise across Europe. This model has the potential for success within the NI mental health care system. Professor Siobhan O’Neill is a member of the Towards Zero Suicide (TZS) Patient Safety Programme collaborative group and this project builds on her work on this topic.

The project includes the delivery of staff training, suicide specific interventions and revisions to care pathways and practice. Culture change requires attitudinal shifts and research to date has shown that many who work in mental health services believe that suicide can be inevitable.

This MRes will examine the attitudes of staff towards suicide and their beliefs about whether it can be prevented, and will examine how training has impacted on this. The findings will provide valuable information for those charged with developing future training in suicide prevention and help identify barriers to the implementation of the Zero Suicide approach.

This MRes forms part of a broader process and outcome evaluation of the initiative led by Ulster University. The student will work alongside clinicians, and mental health leaders researching an internationally renowned approach and interventions, on a vital. The TZS project is “data driven” and this research will shape practice on an ongoing basis. Findings have huge potential for impact as these strategies are also of interest internationally. The successful applicant will develop research skills and an understanding of suicide prevention.

Rationale and objectives of the research:

To establish or assess the factors affecting the attitudes of staff in mental health services regarding suicide prevention.

To identify the attitudinal and operational barriers to the implementation of the Zero Suicide approach.

To examine the impact of the Zero Suicide Training on staff attitudes.

Methods to be used: Qualitative interviews and focus groups with staff at different levels in acute, and community mental health services.

Skills required of applicant: Experience in writing ethical approval applications. Qualitative research skills: interviewing/ focus group facilitation, data analysis, excellent writing skills.


O’Neill, S., Corry, C., Murphy, S., Brady, S., Bunting, B. (2014). Characteristics of deaths by suicide in Northern Ireland from 2005 to 2011 and use of health services prior to death. J Affect Disord, 168, 466-471.

O'Neill, S., Ferry, F., Murphy, S.D., et al. (2014). Patterns of suicidal ideation and behaviour in Northern Ireland and associations with conflict related trauma. PLoSOne,

Benson, T., Corry, C., O’Neill, S., Murphy, S., Bunting, B. (2018). Use of prescription medication by individuals who died by suicide in Northern Ireland. Arch Suicide Res, 22, 1, 139-152.

Essential criteria

  • To hold, or expect to achieve by 15 August, an Upper Second Class Honours (2:1) Degree or equivalent from a UK institution (or overseas award deemed to be equivalent via UK NARIC) in a related or cognate field.
  • Experience using research methods or other approaches relevant to the subject domain


This is a self-funded MRes opportunity.

Other information

The Doctoral College at Ulster University


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Completing the MRes provided me with a lot of different skills, particularly in research methods and lab skills.

Michelle Clements Clements - MRes - Life and Health Sciences

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