New Research Aims to Help Prevent Suicides

Despite many efforts and much progress, suicide continues to be a major issue across the country. Both the total number and the rate of suicides increased every year from 2005 to 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On average, a person dies by suicide every 15 minutes in the United States.

Some recent research shows promise in helping to prevent the tragedy of suicide and reversing this upward trend. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is using electronic health records data to help identify people at high risk of suicide. Researchers used the large volume of data available through the VHA to develop a predictive model of suicide risk. The research, involving data on more than 3,000 suicides and more than a million control patients, is the result of a collaboration between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the National Institute of Mental Health. Because this analysis uses the kinds of data common to large health systems, this research and knowledge holds promise for helping to prevent suicides in other areas beyond the VA.

Suicidal behavior is preventable and controlling the psychiatric conditions associated with it, whether with medication or psychotherapy is key,” noted APA President-elect Maria Oquendo, M.D. “We also now have interventions that target the suicidal behavior itself and patients can develop coping strategies to deal with suicidal thoughts or impulses.”

New research from Johns Hopkins University (1) found that state laws making it harder to get handguns were associated with a reduction in suicide deaths. Moreover, it is now evident that suicidal behavior runs in families, and appears inherited independently from psychiatric disorders. (2) That is, it is not simply that psychiatric illness is familial and increases risk for suicide. For example, some families with depression have suicidal behavior amongst its members, while other families with depression do not.

Clearly public perception and lingering stigma of mental illness and suicide play a role and talking about suicidal behavior openly in affected families can help individuals and their relatives identify suicidal thoughts or urges as requiring medical intervention. Interestingly, a recent public survey asked American adults what they thought would help reduce the number of suicides.

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