December 08, 2016
2 min read

NIMH emphasizes importance of suicide prevention

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In a recent blog post, Joshua Gordon, MD, PhD, director of the NIMH, declared a push for suicide prevention efforts and described the NIMH’s role in furthering suicide prevention priorities.

Suicide rates have been increasing over the past 15 years, according to Gordon. In 2014, more than 40,000 individuals died by suicide in the U.S. Of these, 425 were adolescents.

Joshua A. Gordon, MD, PhD
Joshua Gordon

To combat rising suicide rates, Gordon called for more data on suicide deaths.

“It might seem cold, reducing human suffering to numbers, describing with quick catch-all terms what I know to be thousands of complex, unique lives lost. But these statistics give us critical clues as to where to focus our efforts,” he wrote.

Another focus of Gordon’s is to identify individuals at risk for suicide.

The NIMH partnered with several federal agencies and private health care systems to identify individuals with high risk for suicide, beginning with the launch of the U.S. Army’s Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service Members (STARRS) in 2009.

Further, the NIMH, Mental Health Research Network and NIH Common Fund have been organizing similar efforts among civilians.

In addition to identification, Gordon hopes to improve quality of life and prevent deaths among individuals who experience suicidal ideation and behavior. This involves assessing prevention strategies.

Several NIMH projects on suicide prevention are underway, according to Gordon.

Among approximately 20,000 at-risk individuals, the Mental Health Research Network will use their Patient Health Questionnaire-9 to refer high-risk individuals to treatments for suicidal ideation.

The University of Massachusetts’ “Systems of Safety” study will assess combined screening, safety planning and referral practices for suicide prevention.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is planning a study of their prediction algorithm to determine if referral to follow-up reduces suicide attempts in high-risk individuals.

In collaboration with Columbia University, New York State Office of Mental Health will assess efficacy of safety planning measures.

The Suicide Prevention for At-Risk Individuals in Transition (SPIRIT) study will also assess safety planning efficacy among individuals recently released from prisons and jails.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention commissioned a modeling effort that indicated a potential 20% reduction in national suicide rates.

“We can identify those at risk; we have efficacious treatments currently being tested in real-world settings,” Gordon wrote. “We now have a chance to bend the curve on suicide rates, to save the lives of thousands of individuals, like my patient, caught in the throes of psychiatry’s biggest killer. We owe it to them to give it our best effort.”