ACT for Life: a Brief Intervention for Maximizing Recovery After Suicidal Crises

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VA Office of Research and Development




Psychiatric Rehabilitation


Other: Treatment as usual
Behavioral: ACT for Life

Study type


Funder types

Other U.S. Federal agency


I21RX002048-01 (U.S. NIH Grant/Contract)

Details and patient eligibility


An estimated 20 Veterans kill themselves every day. Suicide prevention literature and public health policy both call for treatment targeting high-risk populations, such as Veterans hospitalized due to suicidal intent and/or attempts. Psychiatric hospitalization is a critical opportunity to provide treatment to reduce the risk of suicide and lay the groundwork for functional recovery. Yet, there are no interventions specifically for suicide prevention that meet Veterans Health Affairs' quality recommendations requiring the provision of evidence-based, recovery-oriented psychotherapy, which are also feasible to use during a typical inpatient stay. The proposed study seeks to take a first step toward filling this gap. In consultation with experts in the field, the authors have developed a protocol applying a recovery-oriented, evidence-based treatment approach to Veteran inpatient care. The proposed pilot study will provide critical information to inform final revisions of the treatment manual and research design for a future study evaluating the efficacy of the intervention.

Full description

Psychiatric hospitalization presents a critical opportunity for delivering targeted treatment to reduce suicide risk and promote functional recovery. Yet, there are no suicide-specific empirically-supported interventions that can be feasibly delivered during a typical Veterans Health Affairs (VHA) inpatient stay. Although VHA now requires the provision of evidence-based, recovery-oriented inpatient psychotherapy, extant empirically-supported interventions for patients at high risk of suicide were developed for use in outpatient settings and are too time- and resource-intensive to implement as intended in inpatient psychiatric settings, where shorter lengths of stay are expected. Furthermore, these interventions focus nearly entirely on preventing suicidal behavior without also targeting functional recovery. Similarly, inpatient psychiatric treatment has traditionally focused on medical management of acute illness, not on improving patient functioning. Preventing suicide during a crisis is only a short-term solution if the investigators fail to assist patients in understanding how they can rebuild a life they deem worth living. Given that approximately 50% of inpatients do not engage in recommended outpatient mental health care and are at the highest risk of death by suicide, it is vital that inpatient care promote functional recovery. The ideal brief intervention for Veterans at risk for suicide needs to reduce risk of suicidal behavior while simultaneously fostering recovery. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a recovery-oriented, psychosocial treatment approach ideally suited for utilization among Veterans hospitalized for suicide risk. ACT teaches psychological skills to handle painful thoughts, emotions, and sensations, but rather than focusing on symptom reduction, ACT directly targets functional recovery by assisting patients in identifying and engaging in value-consistent behaviors despite the potential for distress. There are no brief, ACT-based, transdiagnostic treatment protocols designed to address suicide risk. In order to fill this gap, the investigators consulted with leading experts in ACT to develop and manualize "ACT for Life", a brief, transdiagnostic, recovery-oriented intervention for Veterans hospitalized due to suicide risk. The ACT for Life manual details the application of ACT to recovery from suicidal crises and consists of three modules, [designed to be utilized in three to four 60-minute individual sessions.] This two arm, randomized, controlled pilot study will provide critical information to inform final revisions to the treatment manual and research design for a future efficacy study of ACT for Life. Veterans who enroll in the study will be randomized to: (a) treatment as usual or (b) treatment as usual plus ACT. The specific aims of this study are to: (1) Determine the acceptability of ACT for Life. (2) Determine the feasibility of the study design and research procedures. (3) Characterize participants' psychosocial functioning and self-directed violence using candidate outcome measures for a future efficacy trial. All participants will complete a baseline assessment, and follow-up assessments one and three months after hospital discharge. Participants in the ACT group will also complete a post-treatment assessment on acceptability of the intervention.


70 patients




18 to 89 years old


No Healthy Volunteers

Inclusion criteria

  • Eligible for Veterans Health Administration care
  • Age 18-89
  • Currently hospitalized due to suicide risk
  • Willing to be randomized and participate in the two conditions

Exclusion criteria

Inability to provide informed consent

Inability to complete study measures, e.g.:

  • due to significant acute intoxication/withdrawal symptoms
  • mania
  • psychosis
  • aggression
  • catatonia
  • cognitive impairment

membership in vulnerable population, e.g.:


Trial design

Primary purpose




Interventional model

Parallel Assignment


Single Blind

70 participants in 2 patient groups

Treatment as usual plus ACT
Experimental group
Participants in this condition will be enrolled in the ACT for Life intervention and still able to engage in treatment as usual.
Behavioral: ACT for Life
Other: Treatment as usual
Treatment as usual
Active Comparator group
Participants in this condition will not be enrolled in ACT for Life, but will continue to participate in treatment as usual (e.g., inpatient and outpatient mental health care).
Other: Treatment as usual

Trial documents

Trial contacts and locations



Data sourced from

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