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Psychotherapy Cuts Suicide Risk by 26 Percent

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How do you help someone who is struggling with thoughts of suicide? Suggest they talk to a therapist.

psychcentral.com

By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

 

A new study out of the University of Copenhagen and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that in a review of Denmark medical records, those who received psychotherapy treatment — talk therapy — reduced their risk of suicide by 26 percent.

Suicide is a serious public health as well as a mental health problem. In the U.S., over 33,000 people die each year from suicide.

Suicide is most often caused by untreated or under-treated clinical depression, a serious condition that is the second most prevalent type of mental illness. People who are at the greatest risk for suicide are usually not in treatment.

In the new study, the medical records of 5,678 Denmark residents who received psychotherapy were matched with over 17,000 subjects who did not receive psychotherapy after engaging in a self-harm event, such as trying to commit suicide. The records were examined from 1992 until 2010.

The researchers found that the group of those who received psychotherapy treatment had 26 percent fewer suicides than the group that did not receive psychotherapy. The researchers estimated that about 145 suicide attempts and 30 suicides were prevented in the talk therapy group.

They also found the psychotherapy group fared better in other ways too. They repeated acts of self-harm less frequently and had a lower risk of death by any cause, including death by suicide.

“Now we have evidence that psychosocial treatment —  which provides support, not medication —  is able to prevent suicide in a group at high risk of dying by suicide,” noted the researchers.

“Our findings provide a solid basis for recommending that this type of therapy be considered for populations at risk for suicide.”

The researchers concluded, “Our findings show a lower risk of repeated deliberate self-harm and general mortality in recipients of psychosocial therapy after short-term and long-term follow-up, and a protective effect for suicide after long-term follow-up, which favor the use of psychosocial therapy interventions after deliberate self-harm.”

Psychotherapy in the study was short-term, generally consisting of interventions ranging from 6 to 12 sessions.

The study is published in the most recent issue of Lancet Psychiatry.

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