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What can be done to prevent suicide?

Dr. Robert J. Roose, MD
Addiction Medicine Specialist

To help prevent suicide, become more aware of the signs of suicidal thoughts and find out how to guide people to the resources they need.

  • Know the signs. Hopelessness, talking about suicide, sudden changes in personality, putting final affairs in order, withdrawing from loved ones, self-destructive behaviors and saying final goodbyes are all signs that a person is contemplating suicide.
  • Stop the silence. If you see symptoms of suicidal behavior, don't be afraid to talk about suicide with the person you are worried about. You will not make him or her more likely to do it. Sometimes, having someone listen, show sympathy, and remind this person that his or her life matters can be the first step toward recovery.
  • Offer help. Remind the person that you are there for him or her and that help is available. Offer options such as seeing a counselor and calling the local crisis line to be connected with mental health professionals.
Maureen Q. Russell, MPH, RN
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

We can all play a part in suicide prevention. Excellent programs are available for you to learn the risk factors (for example, keeping a gun in the house is a risk factor) and warning signs (saying, "I'm going to shoot myself," is a warning sign). More importantly, these programs can teach skills you need to ask someone if they are thinking of suicide; offer hope and support, while encouraging them to get help; and helping them find the kind of help they need. QPR (Question, Pursuade, Refer) Gatekeeper Training can be learned in just a couple hours. SafeTALK (a half day program) and ASIST (a two day training) are also highly regarded. More information can be found at these websites; including classes scheduled in your area.

QPR Institute http://www.qprinstute.com and LivingWorks http://www.livingworks.net

Another important factor in the effort to prevent suicide is Means Restriction: limiting easy access to lethal weapons and/or drugs, for example. Harvard University's Means Matter is the place to go to learn more. Check them out at:

http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/means-matter/

There are other ways to help:

  • advocating for appropriate programs and funding at the local, state, and national level (check out the Suicide Prevention Action Network at http://www.SPANUSA.org)
  • raising awareness through community action and supporting fundraising efforts - an Out of the Darkness Community or Campus Walk is a good example. Better yet, step up to the challenge of The Overnight Walk. This year it's in New York City, June 4th and 5th. More information can be found at http://www.theovernight.org.

That will keep you busy! at least for a while. If you are in NYC for the Overnight, perhaps we'll run into each other. I'll be on Medical Crew, treating blisters at one of the most amazing events I've ever had the privilege to attend.

Research helps determine which factors can be modified to help prevent suicide and which interventions are appropriate for specific groups of people. Before being put into practice, prevention programs should be tested through research to determine their safety and effectiveness. For example, because research has shown that mental and substance-abuse disorders are major risk factors for suicide, many programs also focus on treating these disorders as well as addressing suicide risk directly.

Studies showed that a type of psychotherapy called cognitive therapy reduced the rate of repeated suicide attempts by 50 percent during a year of follow-up. A previous suicide attempt is among the strongest predictors of subsequent suicide, and cognitive therapy helps suicide attempters consider alternative actions when thoughts of self-harm arise.

Specific kinds of psychotherapy may be helpful for specific groups of people. For example, a treatment called dialectical behavior therapy reduced suicide attempts by half, compared with other kinds of therapy, in people with borderline personality disorder (a serious disorder of emotion regulation).

The medication clozapine is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for suicide prevention in people with schizophrenia. Other promising medications and psychosocial treatments for suicidal people are being tested.

This answer is based on source information from National Institute of Mental Health.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.