Ethics: not to be taken lightly!

In our psychology classes, we repeatedly hear about the importance of ethics in research. We learn the rights that participants and researcher’s have. When conducting research, before you can start running participants, you need ethics approval, which can be a lengthy process, especially if there are issues with your procedure and you have to go back to the drawing board. The process can start to seem like a pain the butt and you can easily lose sight of why ethics are SO important in research.

In the lab I am currently working in, the research project we are conducting requires participants to fill out a lengthy questionnaire with various psychological scales. One of the scales is the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), which measures depression severity. The scale consists of 21 items and a person receives a score for each item, depending on how they respond, and the scores of the items are summed. The higher a participant’s score, the greater the severity of their depressive symptoms. One of the items asks about the rather sensitive topic of suicide and asks about whether they would actually consider carrying it out. This item raises the rather serious ethical question of: if someone indicates that they would “kill themselves if they had the chance”, can you ethically let them just walk out of your office without taking any action?

When we were trying to get ethics for our project, because we were using the BDI, we needed to make sure we had an ethics-approved protocol for what to do should we have a participant indicate that they would commit suicide. This resulted in our ethics approval taking a looooong time, delaying out project. After weeks and weeks of waiting, we just really wanted to get started! I definitely saw the value of this protocol because — if someone was suicidal, I definitely would want to be able to intervene in some way, but I didn’t really think there was a high chance that I would have to use the protocol. Sure enough, within the first few weeks of testing, we were running a participant who indicated that, given the opportunity, she would commit suicide. When this occurred, boy was I glad to have that protocol!

We are in psychology because we want to help people who may be going through difficult times. They may not have been able to tell someone else that they are feeling this way and, in this situation, you have the opportunity to help — make sure you able to do everything you can!

If you, or someone you know is considering suicide, know that there is help out there and it CAN get better!

Call suicide action Montreal:

Phone number: 514–723–4000

(For outside Montreal: 1–866–277–3553)

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