Preventing suicide and destigmatizing mental anguish during the COVID-19 pandemic with Dr. Christine Moutier

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Christine Moutier, MD, joins Lorenzo Norris, MD, to discuss how clinicians can scale up interventions to reduce suicide rates amid the pandemic.

Dr. Moutier is chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She reported no disclosures.

Dr. Norris also reported no disclosures.

Take-home points

  • Death by suicide is a health outcome, which means that there is always a place to intervene, whether clinically, socially, or through research.
  • Risks for suicide during the pandemic are known to increase; however, it is not a foregone conclusion that suicide deaths will rise during or afterward.
  • Mental health diagnoses are a risk factor for suicide, and there will be interplay with stressors such as unemployment, financial stress, grief, and socioeconomic disparities.
  • The basics of suicide prevention include screening for suicidal ideation at behavioral health appointments. If a change in risk is identified, clinicians should use a patient-centered intervention, such as a safety plan.


  • The U.S. suicide rate has risen by 35% from 1999 to 2018, and the rates of suicide are particularly increasing in middle-aged populations as well as among youths of color.
  • Evidence-based efforts are underway to mitigate suicide deaths through national suicide prevention plans. Yet, everyone has a role to play in suicide prevention, since part of prevention includes reducing stigma related to conversations about mental health and asking about crises and suicidal thoughts.
  • In behavioral health settings, routine screening should be implemented for suicidal ideation and deterioration in any aspect of mental health. Asking about suicidal ideation is the bare minimum, and not all patients will admit to suicidal ideation when asked. Other risk factors for suicide include acute stressors such as decompensation and losses of relationships and employment.
  • Most individuals with suicidal thoughts do not need to be psychiatrically hospitalized. Suicidal thoughts, as symptoms of a mental illness, can be treated with interventions other than hospitalization. The goal is to maintain safety and respond appropriately.
  • In-office interventions include creating a safety plan or adding to an existing plan.
  • As a silver lining, the pandemic has normalized conversations about mental health and reduced stigma around mental health experiences. Dr. Moutier discusses how, as the pandemic set in, the AFSP experienced a notable increase in requests for education about mental health and suicide prevention.


Moutier C. JAMA Psychiatry. 2020 Oct 16. https://bit.ly/34AF0Zq.

Chung DT et al. https://bit.ly/31RYxm9.

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: https://bit.ly/2HK3S8j

Policy priorities: https://bit.ly/37IvO78

Safety plan worksheet: https://bit.ly/2HK3Vkv

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suicide risk factors: https://bit.ly/3jyMu3i

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Show notes by Jacqueline Posada, MD, who is associate producer of the Psychcast and consultation-liaison psychiatry fellow with the Inova Fairfax Hospital/George Washington University program in Falls Church, Va. Dr. Posada has no conflicts of interest.

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Email the show: [email protected]

Podcast Participants

Lorenzo Norris, MD
Lorenzo Norris, MD, is host of the MDedge Psychcast, editor in chief of MDedge Psychiatry, and assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University, Washington. He also serves as assistant dean of student affairs at the university, and medical director of psychiatric and behavioral sciences at GWU Hospital. Dr. Lorenzo Norris has no conflicts of interest.
Renee Kohanski, MD
Renée S. Kohanski, MD, is a board-certified psychiatrist with additional training in forensic psychiatry. She has been a board examiner for the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, and has enjoyed a broad-based practice in academic, community, and forensic psychiatry. She is currently a solo practitioner and owner of RK Psychiatry Associates and serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of MDEdge Psychiatry. Talkers magazine describes Dr. Kohanski as “one of the most reliable ‘go-to’ sources for insights and information about psychiatry in the media today.” Dr. Renée Kohanski has no conflicts of interest.