5 Questions With a Mental Health Services Researcher

5 Questions With a Mental Health Services Researcher Bobbi Jo Yarborough and her fellow CHR researcher, and husband, Micah.

Bobbi Jo Yarborough leads large-scale study to examine connection between opioid use and suicide risk.

Bobbi Jo Yarborough, PsyD

Bobbi Jo Yarborough, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist and mental health services investigator here at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research. She is passionate about improving health outcomes and promoting recovery among individuals with serious mental health conditions and substance abuse disorders.

Yarborough is currently leading a large-scale, $1.4 million study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse to examine the connection between opioid use and suicide risk. The goal is to develop better tools to help clinicians identify patients who are at highest risk.

What motivates you?

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and the 2nd leading cause of death among youth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there is one death by suicide in the United States every 12 minutes. These are preventable deaths. I see these statistics as a call to action. Health systems must improve our detection of people at risk for suicide, as well as our care pathways and interventions so we can identify people in need of intervention and engage them in life-saving services.

What sparked your interest in what you’re doing now?

I have always had an interest in protecting vulnerable people. I am saddened when I hear on the news of another beloved public figure who has died by suicide: Robin Williams, Chris Cornell, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain. Also, I have several family members and friends who have struggled to manage suicidal thoughts. For them, I try to bring my best to work every day and do whatever I can to prevent suicides from continuing to happen.

Which projects have excited you most?

I’m involved in several projects that are inspiring because they are opportunities to make a large, positive public health impact. One study is an implementation evaluation of a framework called Zero Suicide, designed to guide health care systems in developing and improving their suicide prevention strategy. From our research we know that more than three-quarters of people attempting suicide or dying by suicide had an outpatient health care visit during the prior year. We see those visits as opportunities for prevention. What we learn from this project has the potential to dramatically transform suicide prevention in health care settings.

What makes Kaiser Permanente a good place to do implementation science?

In the area of suicide prevention, Kaiser Permanente has demonstrated a strong commitment to improving care delivery. I work directly with the team implementing Zero Suicide in my region and with a national team of quality improvement champions, clinicians, and researchers in an interregional suicide prevention learning collaborative workgroup led by the Kaiser Permanente Care Management Institute. We are working together to identify workflows that will support suicide prevention and to measure outcomes that support continuous and sustained improvements.

Implementation science methods will help us better understand how and under which conditions suicide prevention efforts can be successful and how they influence suicide outcomes. This work is an important component of the larger portfolio of mental health research being conducted at Kaiser Permanente.

What keeps you going outside of work?

I enjoy anything that brings people together, particularly when there is food. This week, that includes cooking a meal with my son for dinner guests, hosting a back-to-school backyard dance party for my daughter’s schoolmates, and hopefully squeezing in a date night over the weekend with my husband, who is my partner at home and at the research center and has always been my biggest supporter. Together, we’ve been conducting research on mental health and substance use disorders at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research since 2000.