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NIMH Addresses Critical Need for Rapid-Acting Interventions for Severe Suicide Risk

Research Highlight

Suicide rates have been steadily rising in the U.S. for the past two decades. While recent progress has been made in bending the curve in this trajectory, much work remains to be done to save lives. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has been working to meet the urgent need for rapid-acting suicide prevention interventions by supporting research  investigating the feasibility and safety of treatment protocols that have the potential to quickly reduce severe suicide risk in youth and adults.

Research shows that up to 80% of people who die by suicide visit health care settings in the year before their death, and about a fifth of people who die by suicide are seen in a health care setting within the week of their death . Despite advances in psychiatric treatments and psychosocial interventions that reduce repeat suicide attempts, there remain few evidence-based interventions that rapidly reduce suicide risk within healthcare settings. The lack of such interventions often means that people at high risk for suicide must be treated in resource-intensive health care settings, such as the emergency department or inpatient settings. Identifying and developing rapid-acting treatments can reduce or eliminate the need for hospitalization and help “jumpstart” the recovery trajectory.

NIMH is supporting eight new research projects that focus on testing the safety, efficacy, and feasibility of ketamine and esketamine (medications known to rapidly reduce depressive symptoms in hours or days) or transcranial magnetic stimulation (which uses magnets to activate specific parts of the brain), to rapidly reduce suicidal thoughts and behaviors in youth and adults. These projects include:

Although more research is needed to identify and develop fast-acting treatments for suicidal thoughts and behaviors, these studies are an important step toward making this type of treatment a reality.


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