Events, Uncategorized

Conference Review: The 17th European Symposium on Suicide and Suicidal Behaviour

By Justine Dickhoff.

The 17th European Symposium on Suicide & Suicidal Behaviour was held in one of Europe’s oldest and most beautiful city’s: Ghent (Belgium). Over the years, this biennial symposium became a meeting point for researchers from all over the world to gather about scientific work, exchange knowledge, and discuss implication for suicide prevention. During the four days of the symposium a broad range of interesting talks were given.

Photo taken on 2nd August 2014 by © Rudi Steenbruggen. Available via Flickr: All rights reserved.

Day 1 – 5th September 2018

The first day of the conference started with a morning full of workshops.  I attended one by Anja Gysin-Maillart about the Attempted Suicide Short Intervention Program (ASSIP), a second about assisted suicide, and ended my workshops with a session about network analysis by Derek de Beurs. (More information about the workshops can be found under this additional blog: Workshops ESSSB17).

After the morning session everyone went to the main venue, in the University. Two members of the organizing committee, Kees van Heeringen and Gwendolyn Portzky opened the event. Followed by Selah Sue, a Belgium musician. She herself has struggled with her mental health and is now godmother of a campaign (“te gek”) at Flemisch schools to make depression more visible. She presented a really beautiful song for us, which she wrote in a difficult phase in her life. It was a really great start of the conference. The first talk of the conference was given by Heleen Riper about the use of apps in suicidal patients. The second presentation of the day was held by Lakshmi Vijayakumar. She  was giving a touching talk about suicide in refugees. I was really happy to see this topic integrated in the conference. After the first day of the conference I was having dinner with our lovely netECR group. It was great to end the first day with this group of talented and interesting early career researchers.

Some of the netECR members at the dinner in Ghent.

Day 2 – 6th September 2018

The second day of the conference started again with a few great keynotes. David Gunnell started with a talk about pointers of intervention, followed by a presentation about suicide in the very old (by Diego De Leo). It was really sad to hear that so many old people don’t want to live their last years of life. In a lot of cases people older than 75 don’t have anyone to turn to, letting them get really lonely.

The third talk by Annette Erlangsen was about stressful life events and suicidal behaviour. Parts of what she mentioned connected to the keynote of the day before Lakshmi Vijayakumar. When looking at people looking for asylum in the Netherlands, for males suicide rates are two times higher. Fleeing from the own country because of an unbearable situation and building up a new life in a new country can lead to a lot of psychological difficulties. But when devastating events happen in the own country, without the need for people to flee, shortly after these events suicide rates can be lower.

The fourth talk, by Thomas Niederkrotenthaler was about the influence of media on suicide. When media is publishing about suicide in 70% of the cases they don’t name any methods, which is good, but unfortunately in 20% of the cases they to mention the method used. And this leads to an increase in suicide.

After these five interesting talks it was my big time during the conference, I was presenting my first paper about social cognition in suicidal behaviour.

Justine presenting her work at the conference. (Photo by Marie-José van Tol – @mariejosevantol)

The second part of the day was again filled with parallel sessions. Since I was still impressed by the presentation of the keynote Heleen Riper from day one, I chose to learn more about digital phenotypes. I got informed about a website that is used in Spain and France, to detect patients at risk (Maria Luisa Barrigon and Sofian Berrouiguet). This app even allows you to track somebodies sleeps, correlates it with your mood and contacts a clinician in critical moments.

Day 3 – 7th September 2018

The third day of the conference, was the one I was most looking forward to attend. The day started with some great talks about biological markers in suicide. In the first talk by Gustavo Turecki, he presented how children’s brains can adapt in an hostile environment, causing them to be more vulnerable to suicidal behaviour in the future.

Rory O’Connor further presented the predictive effect of implicit associations with death compared to life in patients with suicidal behaviour. When it comes to medication, John Mann stated the importance of doing research about Ketamine and its effect on suicidal behaviour. The last talk of the morning session was given by Keith Hawton about community approaches to suicide prevention. It was really shocking to hear that of 68% of girls aged between 13 and 16 do self-harm.

The next part of the day was filled the second poster session of the conference. And I again came across shocking numbers, this time over suicidal ideation in college students. On a poster from a research group in Montreal they found suicidal ideation in about 40% of a high school population.

Some of the netECR editorial team members presenting a poster in the second poster session of the conference. (From the left: Kirsten Russel, Donna Littlewood, and Tiago Zortea).

The day was followed by parallel sessions. Four great talks were given by some of our wonderful netECR’s members (Donna Littlewood, Tiago C. Zortea, Karen Wetherall and Seonaid Cleare). Donna Littlewood presented the positive short-term and long-term effects for people with suicidal thoughts or behaviour when participating in a study. Tiago Zortea presented the importance of healthy attachment behaviours, and that an unhealthy ones may lead to suicide risk via defeat and entrapment. The talk by Seonaid Cleare was about the promising effects of mindfulness meditation and muscle relaxation for people who self-harm and/ or with suicidal ideation. The last talk of the session was by Karen Wetherall about the risk of comparing yourself with others on Facebook for suicidal ideation.

The day ended with what we were all waiting for – the dinner party. It was an unforgettable event with nice dinner, amazing people and the absolute highlight of the day – the first suicide researchers band. Derek de Beurs, Kees van Heeringen, Erkki Isometsä, Olivia Kirtley and Ellen Townsend went on stage to perform a few really nice numbers and got everybody on the dance floor. Check them out on Twitter!

Day 4 – 8th September 2018

The last day of the conference started with a talk by Alexandra Pitman about suicide bereavement research. Ad Kerkhof continued with a talk about psychotherapeutic interventions for suicide. He sees treatment of suicidal intrusions (DMDR, Imaginary Exposure and CBT) in its infancy, it should be further examined and adapted for suicidal patients. The morning continued with a debate between Nav Kapur  and Seena Fazel regarding risk assessment. Research recently showed that 86% of the patients who died by suicide, had contact with a physician shortly before they died and were rated as having no or low risk of suicide. The last talk of the day was given by Jane Pirkis. She gave us an overview of the internet’s history and the first chatsafe guidelines launched in Australia to promote peer-to-peer communication about suicide online.

In the same session of the conference, the poster prize winners were annouced: 1st: Eva De Jaegere, 2nd: Erik Morsch and, 3rd: the netECR member Helen Fay. Last part of the conference were presentations about the next cities the ESSSB19 could be held. My favorite was the final winner Copenhagen, who even created a song to get us to their beautiful capital. I am looking forward to go to Copenhagen in 2022!

Check out other contents and photos on the official ESSSB17 Twitter account, and the Conference Programme of the event.


Justine Dickhoff (@justinedickhoff) is a PhD Student looking at emotional processing in suicidal behaviour and related brain activation at the Department of Neuroscience of the University Medical Center Groningen, The Netherlands. (j.dickhoff@umcg.nl).

Featured Image: Photo by Rudy Maree lPhotography at Flickr.

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