Combined Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation and Brief Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Suicide: Study Protocol for a Randomized Controlled Trial in Veterans

Trials [Electronic Resource]. 21(1):924, 2020 Nov 12.

Bozzay ML; Primack JM; Swearingen HR; Barredo J; Philip NS

At least 17 veterans die every day from suicide. Although existing treatments such as brief cognitive behavioral therapy (BCBT) have been found to reduce suicide attempts in military personnel, a number of patients go on to attempt suicide after completing therapy. Thus, finding ways to enhance treatment efficacy to reduce suicide is critical. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a noninvasive technique that can be used to stimulate brain regions that are impaired in suicidal patients, that has been successfully used to augment treatments for psychiatric disorders implicated in suicide. The goal of this study is to test whether augmenting BCBT with TMS in suicidal veterans reduces rates of suicidal ideation, attempts, and other deleterious treatment outcomes.

One hundred thirty veterans with a suicide plan or suicidal behavior in the prior 2 weeks will be recruited from inpatient and outpatient settings at the Providence VA Medical Center in the USA. Veterans will be randomly assigned to receive 30 daily sessions of active or sham TMS in concert with a 12-week BCBT protocol in a parallel group design. Veterans will complete interviews and questionnaires related to psychiatric symptoms, suicidal ideation and behavior, treatment utilization, and functioning during a baseline assessment prior to treatment, at treatment endpoint, and 6- and 12-month follow-ups. Primary analyses will use mixed effect regressions to examine effects of treatment condition on suicidal behaviors, improvements in psychosocial functioning, and psychiatric hospitalization. Similar models as well as exploratory latent growth curve analyses will examine mediators and moderators of treatment effects.

This protocol provides a framework for designing multilayered treatment studies for suicide. When completed, this study will be the first clinical trial evaluating the efficacy of augmenting BCBT for suicide with TMS. The results of this trial will have implications for treatment of suicide ideation and behaviors and implementation of augmented treatment designs. If positive, results from this study can be rapidly implemented across the VA system and will have a direct and meaningful impact on veteran suicide.