Suicide (cont.)

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What is the treatment for suicidal thoughts and behaviors?

Those who treat people who attempt suicide tend to adapt immediate treatment to the person's individual needs. Those who have a responsive and intact family, good friendships, generally good social supports, and who have a history of being hopeful and have a desire to resolve conflicts may need only a brief crisis-oriented intervention. However, those who have made previous suicide attempts, have shown a high degree of intent to kill themselves, seem to be suffering from either severe depression or other mental illness, are abusing alcohol or other drugs, have trouble controlling their impulses, or have families who are unwilling to commit to counseling are at higher risk and may need psychiatric hospitalization and long-term outpatient mental-health services to achieve recovery from their suicidal thoughts or actions.

Suicide-prevention measures that are put in place following a psychiatric hospitalization usually involve mental-health professionals trying to implement a comprehensive outpatient treatment plan prior to the individual being discharged. This is all the more important since many people fail to comply with outpatient therapy after leaving the hospital. It is often recommended that all firearms and other weapons be removed from the home, because the individual may still find access to guns and other dangerous objects stored in their home, even if locked. It is further often recommended that sharp objects and potentially lethal medications be locked up as a result of the attempt.

Vigorous treatment of the underlying psychiatric disorder is important in decreasing short-term and long-term risk. Contracting with the person against suicide has not been shown to be especially effective in preventing suicidal behavior, but the technique may still be helpful in assessing risk, since hesitation or refusal to agree to refrain from harming oneself or to fail to agree to tell a specified person may indicate an intent to harm oneself. Contracting might also help the individual identify sources of support he or she can call upon in the event that suicidal thoughts recur.

Talk therapy (psychotherapy) that focuses on helping the person understand how their thoughts and behaviors affect each other (cognitive behavioral therapy) has been found to be an effective treatment for many people who struggle with thoughts of harming themselves. School intervention programs in which teens are given support and educated about the risk factors, symptoms, and ways to manage suicidal thoughts in themselves and how to engage adults when they or a peer expresses suicidal thinking have been found to decrease the number of times adolescents report attempting suicide.

Although concerns have been raised about the possibility that antidepressant medications increase the frequency of suicide attempts, mental-health professionals try to put those concerns in the context of the need to treat the severe emotional problems that are usually associated with attempting suicide and the fact that the number of suicides that are completed by mentally ill individuals seems to decrease with treatment. The effectiveness of medication treatment for depression in teens is supported by research, particularly when medication is combined with psychotherapy. In fact, concern has been expressed that the reduction of antidepressant prescribing since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration required that warning labels be placed on these medications may be related to the 18.2% increase in U.S. youth suicides from 2003-2004 after a decade of steady decrease. While the use of specific antidepressants has been associated with lower suicide rates in adolescents over the long term, uncommon short-term side effects of serotonergic antidepressants (for example, fluoxetine [Prozac], sertraline [Zoloft], paroxetine [Paxil], or escitalopram [Lexapro]) may include an increase in suicide. Therefore, most practitioners consider antidepressant medication an important part of treating depression while closely monitoring their patients' progress to prevent suicide.

Mood-stabilizing medications like lithium (Lithobid) -- as well as medications that address bizarre thinking and/or severe anxiety, like clozapine (Clozaril), risperidone (Risperdal), and aripiprazole (Abilify) -- have also been found to decrease the likelihood of individuals killing themselves.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/26/2013

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