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Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and deaths by suicide are increasing every year despite prevention efforts.

“It’s also a very sensitive and scary topic, which makes it difficult to study and to approach clinically,” said Caitlin Clevenger, a PhD candidate in clinical psychology who researches the relationship between suicide, intimate partner violence, and substance use. She’s zeroed in on a variety of populations, including abused women in shelters, college students, gender and sexual minorities, and men and women arrested for domestic violence and referred to batterer intervention programs.

“I hope that my work will bring light to suicide as an issue, improve our prevention efforts, and ultimately help our society to talk about it and address it both in the real world and in the clinical setting,” she said.

“With victims of domestic violence, it seems that the isolating and emotionally painful effects of controlling behaviors might cause someone to think about suicide as a means for escape,” she said.

Among college students, she said, “abusing alcohol and engaging in violence might make some fearless and tolerant of pain to the point of being able to hurt themselves if they wanted to.”

In addition, she’s found that college students and first responders may be at increased risk for suicide simply by being exposed to the suicidal behaviors of others.

“This suggests that suicidal behavior can be contagious in some instances,” she said.

Clevenger also has seen that transgender and gender diverse individuals are at a higher risk of suicide due to stress from facing violence, harassment, and discrimination.

“We really need to work to protect transgender people from such mistreatment to help save their lives and promote their well-being,” she said.

Psychology Professor Greg Stuart calls Clevenger a “superb therapist in our clinical psychology graduate program and an incredibly accomplished researcher.”

“She has over 30 publications and obtained a $130,000 grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to fund her innovative dissertation research. She is also a compassionate activist for suicide prevention across our campus, community, and the country,” he said.


Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,