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Discovering More Effective Suicide Prevention Strategies

HMHI Expert Spotlight: Rebekah Huber, PhD



Rebekah Huber Narrows

Rebekah Huber, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Utah School of Medicine. Her research aims to identify risk factors for suicide with a specific focus on emerging bipolar disorder. In particular, she is interested in the role that cognitive impairments play in suicide behavior and the relationship between neurocognitive changes and suicide risk in youth with bipolar disorder.

We asked Dr. Huber a few questions about her research, her work at HMHI, and what she enjoys doing when she is not working.

What is your area/areas of specialty?

My background is in developmental psychopathology, and I have more than ten years of research experience with the application of magnetic resonance imaging approaches in youth. This combination of training and experience has led me to develop a strong interest in examining the interactions between the brain and behavior for the purposes of understanding the causes, prevention, and treatment of mood disorders and suicide risk in adolescents. My research is focused on the identification of neurocognitive and neurobiological risk factors for suicide behavior in bipolar disorder. Through this work, I aim to inform clinical prevention and intervention efforts to make measurable progress in reducing suicide.

In addition to my individual research, I am a team scientist with interdisciplinary collaborations on a large-scale study of adolescent brain development, the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) study. The ABCD study is a nationwide study of brain development and child health that has enrolled more than 11,800 youth ages 9 to 10 and will follow their progress into young adulthood. Data from this project has the potential to provide substantial long-term benefits toward understanding the effects of substance use and other health risks on the adolescent brain and behavior, and differential risk and resiliency factors that might alter the probability of adverse outcomes in youth.

"I love the creativity and problem solving that is involved with science and research. It is exciting to design and carry out studies that may provide important findings that could positively impact patients and their families."

Rebekah Huber, PhD

What do you love most about the work that you do?

I love the creativity and problem solving that is involved with science and research. It is exciting to design and carry out studies that may provide important findings that could positively impact patients and their families. I also love being a team scientist and collaborating with other talented experts across disciplines to advance the field of psychiatry. Most importantly, I am passionate about fostering the growth and development of students and trainees and I love mentoring and teaching.

What is the latest update(s) on your research?

I was recently awarded a NARSAD Young Investigator research grant from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation. The project aims to investigate the temporal relationship between sleep disturbance, cognitive control, and suicide risk in adolescents with bipolar disorder. This study will examine sleep over time using self-report and objective assessment with actigraphy and real-time assessment of suicidal thoughts and cognitive control using prompts through an app on the adolescent’s mobile phone. There will also be an opportunity for adolescents enrolled in the study to receive a brain scan.

How does the research you do help patients?

Suicide is a devastating public health problem and rates of attempts are 50 times higher in adolescents with bipolar disorder than adolescents in the general population. My work aims to better understand suicidal thinking and identify risk factors associated with the transition from suicidal thoughts to attempts in these youth. Identifying risk factors for suicide will aid the development of more effective, personalized suicide prevention strategies for youth with bipolar disorder.

What are you passionate about outside of work?

Outside of work, I love spending time with my husband doing outdoor activities (hiking, biking, skiing, camping) and enjoying all the beauty that Utah has to offer. I am an avid runner, and love to start each day with a run. You can find me running outside during all seasons and I'm usually training for a race. I haven't won any prizes for being the fastest, but I recently scored a new personal best at the 2022 Snow Canyon Half Marathon clocking in at 1:51. My husband and I are also very passionate about gardening and have fun experimenting with new recipes and ways to use the food that we manage to grow.

Rebekah Huber Skiing

Rebekah Huber Bryce Canyon