Conference Coverage

Latest suicide prevention research highlights roles for clinicians, teachers, and parents



Adolescent suicides can be prevented, and clinicians have a key role to play, Joan Asarnow, PhD, said in a webinar presented on World Suicide Prevention Day, Sept. 10, 2019, to raise awareness of the latest research in suicide prevention and risk factors.

A doctor taking notes with a young male patient AlexRaths/Thinkstock

“Primary care doctors are the most trusted doctors for our teenagers,” Dr. Asarnow said during a question-and-answer session. Primary care can be the first-line screening to identify risk factors for suicide, and a close link with primary care “can make a very big difference in helping kids get through tough times.”

Other studies have shown that when doctors and nurses are able to recognize suicidality and link to behavioral health when needed, suicide attempts and ideation are reduced. Strategies including dialectical behavioral therapy and cognitive-behavior therapy have demonstrated success in reducing self -harm, she noted.

Schools have a role in suicide prevention as well, said Dr. Asarnow of the University of California, Los Angeles, and editor of a special issue of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry on suicide and self-harm.

She cited data from the Saving and Empowering Young Lives in Europe (SEYLE) study, a longitudinal study of school-based suicide prevention interventions, in which suicide attempts were significantly lower among teens who were exposed to a school-based program (Youth Aware of Mental Health) than they were among controls.

Additional findings from the SEYLE study recently were published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (2019. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.13119).

The authors investigated the interaction of three interventions with a certain model of suicide risk. The three interventions were Youth Aware of Mental Health (YAM); Question, Persuade and Refer (QPR); and ProfScreen. The latter two are established interventions for use by teachers. In the study, 11,110 high school students from 10 countries in the European Union completed questionnaires to assess baseline feelings of being a burden to others and feelings of loneliness and isolation from family and peers. The questionnaires also assessed health risk behaviors, self-injury, suicide ideation, and suicide attempts (SA), which were factors in the model being investigated. The participants were randomized to one of the interventions or to a control group that received educational posters with information about mental health resources.

In a reassessment of 8,972 adolescents 12 months later, the interventions all significantly reduced the association between repeated suicide attempts and the baseline interaction of self-injury and suicide ideation, compared with the control group.

“Among each of the three intervention groups, [suicide ideation] at baseline did not increase the risk of self-injury to be associated with repeated [suicide attempt]” at follow-up, Shira Barzilay, PhD, of Tel Aviv University, and coauthors said.

In addition, the researchers’ model found that “belongingness to parents” predicted lower odds of SI after controlling for depression, anxiety, and internalizing symptoms, and this prediction was similar across the intervention and control groups, although good relations with peers and lack of feeling like a burden on others were not significantly associated with lower odds of SI.

The study findings were limited by several factors including the limits of the model to fully capture the measures of belongingness or burdensomeness, and the use of a 12-month follow-up, which was too long to examine certain patterns of SA, the researchers noted. However, the results suggest that interventions can help reduce risk behaviors or self-harm that could lead to suicide. Areas for further study include examining spikes in risk variables that might have preceded suicide attempts, elevated stress, or interpersonal conflicts.

“The implications for suicide prevention, in both community and clinical settings, are to monitor youth who may be engaged in risky behaviors regardless of [suicide ideation] presentation and provide them with mental health education,” Dr. Barzilay and coauthors concluded.

The ongoing mission, Dr. Asarnow said, is “to send messages of hope, and that there is help out there.”

This is particularly important in the United States and the United Kingdom because, while suicide rates in adolescents have declined in some countries, they have increased in others, notably the two countries aforementioned, Dennis Ougrin, MD, said at the webinar.


Recommended Reading

Addressing suicidality among Indigenous women, girls
MDedge Pediatrics
FCC backs designating 988 as suicide prevention hotline
MDedge Pediatrics
Our EHRs have a drug problem
MDedge Pediatrics
New report cites mental health challenges faced by separated immigrant children
MDedge Pediatrics
For trans children, early gender ID conversion efforts damage lifelong mental health
MDedge Pediatrics