August 22, 2011
Suicide Prevention and Research
NIMH researcher Dr. Jane Pearson talks about warning signs as well as progress in suicide prevention.
Dr. Jane Pearson: Suicide is a major public health problem in this country. And like other external causes of death — accidents, homicides — suicides are also considered external causes of death. And because of that, we think we have opportunities to prevent it.
Announcer: Dr. Jane Pearson is a leader of the suicide prevention research team at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda. The tragedy of suicide touches large numbers of American families every year. But people across the globe now benefit from advances in suicide prevention research and guidelines that emerged from national and global strategies formed a decade ago. An example of specific action steps that have been developed can be found in medical emergency rooms.
Dr. Jane Pearson: We can do better for people who actually come to the emergency department saying they’re suicidal. We felt like we could find better ways of helping those people how to better screen, access them, treat them. I think some other areas we’ve made significant progress is in understanding what treatments seem to work at least for people who have attempted suicide. We’ve got some interventions, some psycho-social counseling for psychotherapy that look particularly effective. And a number of these use cognitive behavioral approaches that directly address people’s thinking about suicide. It’s really important in suicide prevention that we think of continuity of care when people’s care changes as they leave the hospital going back into the community. We know that’s a very high risk time. So we need to think about what would provide more continuous care — more support for both the individual and maybe their family members to help them stay well and to start getting the treatment that they need.
Announcer: An alliance of people and organizations, including researchers at NIMH, has uncovered critical pieces of information that include those individuals who may be at higher risk for suicide. Included are people with known mental disorders such as schizophrenia or bipolar. People with alcohol or drug problems may have higher risks along with those who suffer from chronic illness. A family history of suicide could serve as a warning as well as people who have been physically abused or neglected….
Dr. Jane Pearson: The highest risk groups are people — are older men, white men in particular who are 85 and older who have a rate of suicide that’s four times the national average. American Indian and Alaskan native males also have very high risks.
Announcer: There are many things we as individuals can do to look for warning signs but perhaps the best advice for loved ones and friends — don’t dismiss or minimize threats of suicide.
Dr. Jane Pearson: If somebody’s talking about suicide you really should take it seriously. There may be parents or even providers who say — oh, somebody just wants to get some attention. Well, they probably need to get some attention for a reason. It’s worth following through. It might be that we don’t know for sure if somebody really intends to or not. And the individual might not be certain either, but we certainly want to give them some help.
Announcer: Dr. Pearson’s work and wide-ranging NIMH-funded research have helped shed new light on suicide treatment and prevention.
Dr. Jane Pearson: We’re trying to pull together what we can learn from surveillance data to find the highest risk groups and really get them the interventions they need. And there are people across NIMH helping with this, across federal agencies. And I think there’s a lot of momentum, and I think we’ve got some good reason to hope that we can actually change these numbers.