A study conducted by a team of mental health experts from a school of public health in Baltimore shows that short-term psychological counseling (i.e. talk therapy) reduces significantly the numbers of suicides and suicide attempts among people who had already tried to kill themselves in the past.
Suicide is one of the top 10 causes of death around the world, especially in economically developed countries. In a recent WHO report, about 800.000 to 1 million of people die by suicide every year, and a person commits suicide every 40 seconds. Annually, in the US, more than 1 million have at least one suicidal attempt.
The lead author of the Baltimore study, Annette Erlangsen PhD, explained that people who are not at their first suicide attempt are a very high-risk group that needs immediate help. Dr Erlangsen confessed that her group of researchers was still unable to say what type of treatment would be more effective for those people.
People with a suicidal record often suffer from some type of mental disorder, for instance, bipolar disorder, alcoholism, schizophrenia or drug abuse. That’s why these people need also medication for their illnesses for complete treatment.
Scientists warn that not all people who decide to take their own lives are affected by a mental disorder. The vast majority of suicidal people are just unhappy with their lives, and at a point in time they see no other choice than suicide. For them it is highly recommended to try counseling or speak therapy before any other extreme measure.
The Baltimore research team analyzed medical infos on about 65.000 Danish people who had already tried to commit suicide between 1992 and 2010. In Denmark, health centers have been offering free psychological counseling since 1992. Therefore, the research team was able to monitor 5.678 people who got counseling, as compared to people who got no counseling.
After one year since therapy, figures showed people who received a minimum of 6 sessions of therapy were 26% less probable to commit suicide, and 38% less likely to die of any other cause.
After 5 years, the repeat suicide attempts rate dropped by 26% among people who followed some type of speak-therapy. During one decade, overall suicide rate was also reduced to 229/100.000 from 314/100.000.
“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. Our findings provide a solid basis for recommending that this type of therapy be considered for populations at risk for suicide,”
Dr Erlangsen said.