October 10, 2019
2 min read

World Mental Health Day: Discussing the clinician's role in suicide prevention

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Jill Harkavy-Friedman
Dan Reidenberg

Since the turn of the century, organizations including the CDC and WHO have reported increasing suicide trends across the United States. Specifically, the CDC noted a 30% increase in suicide between 1999 and 2016. Globally, nearly 800,000 people die from suicide each year, and it remains the second leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 29 years, according to WHO.

In 1992, Oct. 10 was designated World Mental Health Day by the World Federation for Mental Health and has been celebrated as such each year since.

For 2019, WHO chose suicide prevention as the focus for the day. Healio Psychiatry spoke with two suicide prevention experts about the clinician’s role in prevention efforts. – by Joe Gramigna

Insights from the AFSP

Jill Harkavy-Friedman, PhD, vice president of research for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, noted that suicide is a “complex, multi-faceted problem,” and it is unlikely that one or several factors can be named as the reasons for the increasing trend.

Harkavy-Friedman provided tips for clinicians on how to approach conversations surrounding suicide with their patients.

“Asking about suicide directly, nonjudgmentally and with an open mind is the most important,” she said. “If someone is thinking about suicide, it does not necessarily mean that they are at imminent risk. It may mean they are feeling terrible and they do not feel that they have any place to talk about that.”

For prevention priorities, Harkavy-Friedman offered several possibilities — treating underlying mental health conditions, managing suicidal ideation with therapy or medication and devising a safety/follow-up plan with patients and their support systems.

Read the full Q&A here.

Insights from SAVE

Dan Reidenberg, PsyD, FAPA, executive director of the nonprofit Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, said that all six of the major questions in the National Research Prioritization Project by NIMH are all equally important to pursue for future suicide prevention research. Additionally, he noted the importance technology can play in prevention efforts.

“I believe [technology] provides us the greatest hope for reducing the burden of suicide here and globally,” Reidenberg said. “Big data sets, rapid access to support and care, many networks of people involved, prevention opportunities and identifying risk as it increases are just some of the many ways I believe that technology can help save lives.”

For clinical priorities, Reidenberg noted that although clinicians may see suicide rarely, they should not assume that it will not happen to their patient.

“Among all patients and all diagnoses, clinicians need to pay more attention to the warning signs and risk factors,” he said. “They should prioritize treatment and bipolar disorder. Too often, clinicians treat patients with bipolar disorder with antidepressants rather than mood stabilizers because the patients don’t come in or talk about manic episodes, only depression.”

Read the full Q&A here.

Disclosures: Harkavy-Friedman and Reidenberg report no relevant financial disclosures.