Featured Researcher — Jeff Bridge, PhD

Featured Researcher — Jeff Bridge, PhD 150 150 Katie Brind'Amour, PhD, MS, CHES

Jeff Bridge, PhD, director of the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research in the Abigail Wexner Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, has been actively working to prevent suicide among at-risk youth since he was 19. Although he started as a volunteer, his career in suicide prevention and research has progressed considerably during his 36 years in the field. Dr. Bridge, along with Cynthia Fontanella, PhD, a principal investigator in the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research, and their colleagues received a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) P50 Program Award (Center Grant) in 2022 that will support a signature project as well as three additional studies, all of which aim to accelerate the prevention of youth suicide in Ohio and nationally.

The signature project funded by the NIMH grant involves implementing a clinical pathway for suicide risk management in 12 pediatric primary care practices across the state. The effort will put into practice findings from smaller studies completed in the Nationwide Children’s network to create standardized approaches for identifying, triaging, treating and following at-risk youth. The team aims to evaluate and improve the community-based intervention so that it can be implemented in other pediatric primary care practices as well. The other projects supported by the grant involve studying children who are at risk due to parental history of suicide attempts, as well as improving intervention opportunities in other well-defined settings such as psychiatric emergency departments and inpatient service settings.

Looking forward, Dr. Bridge is eager to see the NIMH program award’s efforts influence suicide prevention in Ohio and beyond and hopes the center grant is the first of many. Dr. Bridge and his colleagues continue to publish results from their other research and clinical interventions. Recent examples include findings on the impact of COVID on suicide rates in young people, the validity of a common suicide screener in Black youth and characteristics of elementary school-aged children who died by suicide.

Read on to learn more about Dr. Bridge and his work.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in your field?

As a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh, I volunteered at a clinic called Services for Teens at Risk. The director, Dr. David Brent, received two NIMH research awards the first year I arrived to study the problem of suicide in young people. I took an immediate interest in that topic. I changed the course of what I was studying, went into epidemiology and decided I wanted to lead my own research to help prevent suicide in young people.

What was your path to your current role?

Non-linear. While I worked on my doctorate at the University of Pittsburgh, I continued to work at Services for Teens at Risk. Then I came to Nationwide Children’s together with John Campo, MD, and a handful of other researchers recruited from Pittsburgh. I was very junior — I had just received my first award from NIMH — and I wasn’t very familiar with Columbus. But I came to visit and was so impressed. John Barnard, MD, the president of the Research Institute at that time, showed me a graph of the Research Institute’s growth, which had been exponential over probably 8 or 10 years. I thought, Wow. This could be a really great place for me to grow.

And Nationwide Children’s has been a great place for me. A lot has happened since I came 17 years ago. My team had early success in obtaining grant funding and we published a few papers that were well-received, and things started to take off. The more the hospital has supported our work, the more we’ve grown and achieved, and now we have the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research. It’s been a very exciting ride.

What is your favorite part of your job?

The favorite part of my job is seeing how our research is translated and applied into routine clinical practice and interventions to advance youth suicide prevention.

How does your research serve our patients and our community?

I would like to believe our center is a resource for the community, and our research and prevention efforts have broad impact in multiple child-serving settings.

Fun Facts About Dr. Jeff Bridge

What do you usually eat for breakfast?

I normally have one of two things: Greek yogurt with honey, Mueslix, blueberries and peanut butter, or a peanut butter and blueberry sandwich with Mueslix. And coffee — lots of coffee.

What’s your non-research dream job?

I would be an investigative journalist.

What’s your favorite food?

I love thick-breaded pork chops with mashed potatoes, gravy and fresh green beans.

Favorite band/genre/artist?

I’d describe it as folk blues rock, like the Avett Brothers, John Prine, Caamp, Van Morrison, etc.

Favorite way to relax?

I love fishing — I could fish for 12 hours every day if time permitted! — spending time with my wife and kids, having a nice meal with family and friends, riding my bike, playing golf and walking our dog, Beau.

Favorite thing you’ve bought this year?

We bought my wife a car, which meant I got her old one — a 13-year improvement on mine.

We describe the problem of suicide and try to understand potential disparities, whether they may be geographic, racial or ethnic, health-based, etc. Then we try to develop or adapt interventions so that they can benefit the greatest number of young people who may be at risk for suicide. We also have an amazing prevention team that trains people regionally and nationally to recognize the signs of suicide and we work to integrate prevention efforts into programs like the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, community-based suicide prevention services and more.

What’s next?

Our primary goal is to implement suicide prevention strategies for young people in settings or systems where efforts can be effectively targeted. Examples include schools, child welfare programs, juvenile justice centers and primary care settings. We want to learn how we can improve our suicide prevention approaches to reduce risk. Our aim is to expand our reach so we can deploy evidence-informed interventions to prevent suicide and suicidal behavior in vulnerable kids.

About the author

Katherine (Katie) Brind’Amour is a freelance medical and health science writer based in Pennsylvania. She has written about nearly every therapeutic area for patients, doctors and the general public. Dr. Brind’Amour specializes in health literacy and patient education. She completed her BS and MS degrees in Biology at Arizona State University and her PhD in Health Services Management and Policy at The Ohio State University. She is a Certified Health Education Specialist and is interested in health promotion via health programs and the communication of medical information.