The majority of people who attempt suicide will do so more than once. A prior suicide attempt remains a strong predictor of future attempts. Therefore, targeting individuals who have tried to take their own lives and enrolling them in a suicide prevention/aftercare program could reduce the likelihood of future attempts and fatalities. To test this theory, Y-J Pan of the Health Service and Population Research Department of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College in London recently conducted a study involving population data from Taiwan.
Pan evaluated the effectiveness of the National Suicide Surveillance System (NSSS), a program designed to identify suicide attempters and those at risk, to see if the counseling, follow-up, and psycho-education it provided could actually decrease future attempts. NSSS was launched in 2006, and Pan’s study examined data from 2006 through 2008.
Pan found that individuals in NSSS had a 22.5% reduction in future suicide attempt risk and those who did eventually have a suicide completion had a longer period between attempt and death than those who attempted and later died prior to initiation of the NSSS. The strongest risk factors for future attempts and deaths were advanced age, psychological issues, male sex, and lethality of attempt mode.
Charcoal burning and hanging are the two most commonly used lethal suicide methods in Taiwan. Pan found that the individuals who first attempted suicide using one of these methods were more likely to use the same methods on future attempts. In particular, those who died from suicide also used one of these methods, which represented more than half overall of the eventual deaths.
Another positive finding was that although a number of the attempters did later attempt and/or complete suicide again, the time between attempt and death was extended to an average of 101 days. This duration provides a window of time for clinicians and mental health professionals to identify those at risk and intervene before another attempt is made. Although these findings do not demonstrate highly positive results because deaths still occurred, they provide hope. Pan added, “The structured aftercare program of the NSSS appears to decrease suicides and to delay time to death for those who remained susceptible to suicide.”
Pan, Y-J, et al. (2013). Effectiveness of a nationwide aftercare program for suicide attempters. Psychological Medicine 43.7 (2013): 1447-54. ProQuest. Web.
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