What Are the The Best Ways to Prevent Suicide? Begin By Being Informed
Suicide prevention is always a priority, especially during times of economic decline, illness, and uncertainty. But what are some of the best strategies for success? If you know someone whom you suspect is harboring thoughts of ending their life, what do you say? If you want to send a message within your community, what are some of the best methods of suicide prevention public messaging? Research has some answers.
Yes --- Do Ask the Experts
Donna Littlewood et al. (2019) examined the issue of suicide prevention in a qualitative study involving a review of quality practices as described by clinicians. They extracted data from the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Safety in Mental Health (NCISH) database, which examined suicides among people receiving mental health services.
They found five themes which illustrated positive practices, which help to:
1.) Promote safer environments,
2.) Develop stronger relationships with patients and families,
3.) Provide timely access to tailored and appropriate care,
4.) Facilitate seamless transitions, and
5.) Establish a sufficiently skilled, resourced and supported staff team.
Littlewood et al. (ibid.) noted, however, the importance of context as a distinguishing feature, explaining that failure to deliver adequate care can be seriously harmful to patients. As an example, they note that failure to develop strong relationships with those providing care, or failure to facilitate timely access to care appropriate for the situation are linked with disastrous results, such as suicide.
In addition to discussing the best practices, Littlewood et al. (supra) recognized that their study also demonstrated the value of allowing clinicians to share their experience, which can enhance quality improvements within the field of mental healthcare.
The Significance of Intervention Efforts
Stephen Platt and Thomas Niederkrotenthaler (2020) examined best practices in suicide prevention programs. They examined and analyzed the effectiveness of 13 different types of interventions that have become part of national suicide prevention programs. They found strong evidence supporting the effectiveness of what they describe as structural interventions, such as restrictions on access to railways, tall buildings, and bridges, as well as restriction on accessing pharmacological agents.
But they found only weakly supportive evidence of the effectiveness of a wide variety of other types of programs and interventions, including everything from training and education of primary care physicians, to firearm access restrictions, to settings based programs in workplaces, schools, and communities.
Platt and Niederkrotenthaler (ibid.) conclude that major improvements are needed in bridging the knowledge gap about methods of effectively intervening to prevent suicide. They describe this gap as surprising, but also disturbing. As an example, they observe the dearth of evaluation studies examining how substance misuse programs impact suicidal behavior, noting the importance and prevalence of alcohol and other substances abused by individuals who also exhibit suicidal behavior.
Public Awareness Campaigns Are Crucial
Joie Acosta et al. (2017) examined some of the best types of public messaging strategies for preventing suicide, and specifically evaluating California’s "Know the Signs" Media Campaign.
They developed a checklist of "best practices for suicide prevention communication campaigns," and then used the checklist to evaluate California's "Know the Signs" (KTS-M) suicide prevention mass media campaign. KTS-M endeavored to educate others about the red flags of suicide, and how to talk with at-risk individuals at risk in order to educate them about resources that are available.
Their results showed that the KTS-M campaign was among the best that they had evaluated.
Core campaign messages include, "Pain isn’t obvious; Suicide is preventable; Know the warning signs of suicide; Find the words to talk to someone you are concerned may be at risk; and You are not alone in helping that person — there are resources available."
Best Practices For Best Results
Collectively, we are working as a society to find the best ways to identify risk factors, treat relevant symptomology, and ultimately prevent suicide. By sharing information among community members, clinicians, and families touched by the heartbreak of losing a loved one through suicide, we can continue to strive to reach out to those at risk, in order to prevent loss of life.
This column was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick, JD, MDiv, PhD, is an award-winning career trial attorney and media commentator. She is host of "Live with Dr. Wendy" on KCBQ, and a daily guest on other media outlets, delivering a lively mix of flash, substance, and style. Her over 4,500 media appearances include major news outlets including CNN, Fox News Channel, HLN, FOX Business Network, and weekly appearances on Newsmax. She is author of Red Flags (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the New York Times bestseller Reading People (Random House, revision). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin professionally with a rock band. Read Dr. Wendy L. Patricks's Reports — More Here.
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