Counseling Shown to Reduce Repeat Attempts at Suicide

A handful of counseling sessions for people who tried to kill themselves significantly reduced the chances they would make another attempt, the first time talk therapy has been proved effective for suicide prevention.

The findings released yesterday in the journal Lancet Psychiatry demonstrate the benefits of therapy for those at high risk of attempting suicide again, said Annette Erlangsen, an associate professor in mental health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Many suicide survivors who don’t require hospitalization for a psychiatric illness are simply patched up and sent home without counseling referrals, she said.

Previous studies have found 1 in 6 will try to harm themselves again within a year and as many as 2 percent will kill themselves, Erlangsen said in a telephone interview. The analysis she conducted with co-author Elizabeth Stuart found six to 10 sessions of talk therapy reduced suicide attempts by 27 percent and deaths by 38 percent in just one year. The benefits lasted as long as two decades, they found.

“It’s very important to offer support for people who have attempted suicide,” Erlangsen said. “We know that they are at risk for repeating and dying from suicide. In just one year we would prevent one suicide attempt for every 44 people seen.”

The researchers analyzed the data from more than 65,000 people in Denmark who attempted suicide from 1992 to 2010, when the country was starting suicide prevention clinics. They compared the records of 5,678 people who received any type of psychosocial therapy, getting as few as one or two sessions, with 17,304 people who hadn’t gone for treatment.

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