On October 20, ten leading experts in the field of suicide gathered virtually for the inaugural Suicide-Focused Assessment and Treatment workshop, cohosted by McLean Hospital and the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.
In his opening remarks, Scott L. Rauch, MD, president and psychiatrist in chief of McLean Hospital, referred to suicide as “a pandemic that is insidiously affecting thousands of American families each year, with nearly 50,000 people dying from suicide in the U.S.”
Rauch added, “It’s critical that we, as clinicians, educators, and trusted members of our communities, arm ourselves with the skills that we can apply in our daily work, to better care for those who are most vulnerable and need our support.”
Compared to many other areas of the world, the U.S. has seen suicide rates increase in the past two decades, with the suicide rate rising from 35% to 45% from 2001 to 2018. Data shows a decline in suicide rates in 2019 and 2020, however—a drop that offers some hope that the trend may be changing. The full picture remains complicated, as rates of anxiety and depression have increased and deaths due to drug overdoses were up by 30% in 2020.
In her talk on the trends and science of suicide prevention, Christine Moutier, MD, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), made a point that was reflected in all of the day’s workshop presentations: suicide is complex.
“Multiple areas of suicide risk and protective factors interact with a person’s biology, psychology, and cognition within historical, social, and environmental factors,” Moutier said.
Sharing some hopeful news, Moutier cited a Harris poll done in conjunction with AFSP showing that 96% of American adults now view their mental health as just as important as their physical health. She noted the positive impact of celebrities, such as Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka, coming forward about their mental health challenges.
Another step in the right direction? Moutier said that the national discourse on suicide prevention is based more on science than it has been in the past.
“What we’re seeing, especially during COVID—but it certainly had begun long before COVID—was that there has been a momentum and a change in the political will and a readiness to engage in a deeper understanding and implementation of policies and practice at the state and federal level that have to do with communities as well as clinical enterprise, that really amount to suicide prevention. And I would say this is just getting started.”
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