• A study from Columbia University found which methods work in reducing suicide rates and preventing suicidal behavior
  • Training primary care physicians in depression recognition and medication treatment prevents suicide, researchers say
  • Educating teens about depression and suicidal behavior is effective in preventing suicidal behavior

A new study has determined which strategies are effective in reducing suicide rates and preventing suicidal behavior.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, determined that training primary care physicians in depression recognition and medication treatment lowers suicide mortality rates.

Following their systematic review, the Columbia researchers also found educating teens about depression and suicidal behavior and reaching out to patients who have attempted suicide or contemplated taking their own life reduces the possibility of them exhibiting suicidal behavior.

"Timing is everything," said study co-author Dr. J. John Mann, EurekAlert reported. "Active outreach to psychiatric patients after discharge or following a suicidal crisis both prevent suicidal behavior."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) WISQARS, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death overall in the U.S., claiming the lives of over 48,000 people in 2018. It is also the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54 in the same year.

Clark County in Nevada, the fifth-largest school district in the United States, has recorded 19 student suicides since the Covid-19 pandemic began in March, more than double the number for the same period the previous year
The NSBA said in a letter to the U.S. president that the actions of a father during a school board meeting in June were considered "domestic terrorism." In photo: a classroom in Clark County, Nevada. GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Ethan Miller

Unlike a more targeted approach, Mann and his co-authors, Christina A. Michel, M.A., and Randy P. Auerbach, Ph.D., suggested that screening school children or the general population for those at risk for suicide "have generally not reduced" suicide deaths, per the report.

According to the researchers, educating the public about depression and suicidal behavior has not proven effective in preventing suicidal behavior in adults. Educating "gatekeepers" such as the teachers or parents of high school students on these topics does is also not as effective as teaching the students, according to the study -- reiterating the need to develop a well-rounded approach toward resolving suicide behavior that caters to all age groups.

Medication treatment is also one of the things the study tackled. The researchers noted that standard antidepressants are effective in preventing suicide attempts but that their effects take too long to manifest.

This delay poses a risk for those already suffering from suicidal ideation and those in need of immediate help, causing more and more to turn to another treatment: intravenously administered ketamine. But while this has shown promise in reducing suicidal ideation within hours, it is "untested for suicidal behavior prevention," the researchers said.

Treatments that have proven to be effective in preventing suicidal behavior, however, are cognitive-behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy, per the study.

The final line of defense in preventing suicide lies in the hands of the members of the household: restricting access to lethal methods for suicide such as firearms. According to the researchers, gun safety in the home should be a priority, considering half of all suicides in the country involve a firearm that was mostly purchased years earlier.

The combination of the mentioned approaches is believed to be effective in reducing suicide rates, according to the researchers. "It is time to use this knowledge and implement a national suicide prevention plan," concluded Mann.