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Therapy Can Prevent Repeat Suicide Attempts

Short-Term Talk Therapy After Suicide Attempt May Save Lives

WebMD Health News

Aug. 2, 2005 -- Talking with a therapist about what triggers suicidal thoughts may prevent repeat suicide attempts in people who have previously attempted suicide.

A new study shows that a brief course of up to 10 sessions of talk therapy compared with standard treatment reduced the risk of subsequent suicide attempts by up to 50% in people treated in hospital emergency rooms for attempted suicide.

Attempted suicide is one of the strongest risk factors for repeated suicide attempts and completed suicide in adults. Previous studies have shown that adults who have attempted suicide are about 40 times more likely to commit suicide than others, and suicide was the fourth leading cause of death for adults aged 18 to 65 in 2002.

Despite the known risks, researchers say little is known about effective treatments to prevent repeat suicide attempts. They say the results suggest a brief course of talk therapy provided by community health centers may be an effective way to prevent suicide deaths, and more studies are needed to evaluate the cost-effectiveness and feasibility of this approach.

Talking May Prevent Repeat Suicide Attempts

In the study, which appears in the Aug. 3 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers compared the effects of talk therapy vs. the usual care in a group of 120 adults who were treated in hospital emergency rooms for attempted suicide.

Half of the participants received the usual care with limited outpatient therapy, medication, tracking, and referral to support services, and the other half received up to 10 sessions of talk therapy.

The main goal of the talk therapy was to identify the thoughts, images, and beliefs that were involved in the previous suicide attempt and addressing those issues, as well as helping the participants develop ways to adapt and cope with stressors.

During 18 months of follow up, 23 of those who received usual care made at least one repeat suicide attempt compared with 13 of those who received talk therapy.

The study also showed that the severity of depression was significantly lower for those in the talk therapy group throughout the course of the study. The talk therapy group also expressed fewer feelings of hopelessness six months after their suicide attempt.

However, there were no significant differences in the rates of suicidal ideation between the two groups at any point during the study.

Researchers say about the same number of participants in each group received medication with psychotropic drugs during the study.

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