Healthy Living

This Simple Therapy Technique May Help Reduce Suicide Risk

It all comes down to personal attention.
04/13/2016 10:21am ET
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Mental health treatment is nuanced and should be different for each individual. However, emerging research is finding that there are some techniques that may work across the board -- and the latest discovery may be one of the most personal, yet simplest methods yet.

A recent paper published in the journal PLOS Medicine revealed that receiving a few specialized therapy sessions along with personal letters from a therapist could act as a mode of intervention for individuals at risk for suicide.

Researchers tested a technique called Attempted Suicide Short Intervention Program, on approximately 120 people who had recently been admitted to a hospital in Switzerland after an attempted suicide.

Participants were placed in either a control group that received standard therapy, or the ASSIP group, which used therapy along with subsequent letters from their mental health professional.

The ASSIP group also went through three specialized sessions with their therapists that focused on particular topics. In the first meeting, patients recorded videos for their therapists, sharing their personal stories about what led them to self-harm. In the second meeting, the patient and therapist watched the recording together with an assignment to reflect on the incident after the session was over. In the last session, the patient and professional went over how to prevent suicide in the future and the patient formed long-term goals.

After the treatment portion of the study concluded, therapists sent patients in the ASSIP group six letters over the course of 24 months. The letters mostly contained safety instructions and information on self-care, but they also contained a few personal sentences tailored to each patient and were signed by the mental health professional.

Researchers followed up with patients after those 24 months, and discovered some pretty astonishing results. One person died by suicide from each group. However, only five repeated attempts occurred in the ASSIP group, compared with 41 in the control group in which subjects didn't receive letters or more specialized treatment from mental health professionals.

It's important to keep in mind that the study was conducted on a relatively small group, and it's not entirely conclusive how it could apply to society at large. One limitation, the authors noted, was that some patients dropped out of the study during the two-year follow-up process.

Other mental health programs are looking to adopt ASSIP for their own trials, according to The Washington Post, a move that may provide a more holistic understanding of how the program can help.

However, the outcome is generally a promising step for mental health treatment in a multitude of ways. Affordability is the No. 1 reason why many people with mental illness don't seek proper support, according to a survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Not only was the ASSIP program seemingly effective in suicide intervention, but the study authors noted how very little expense and effort went into it.

"ASSIP fulfills the need for an easy-to-administer, low-cost intervention," the researchers wrote in the conclusion.

The findings also provide some interesting insight not only for clinicians, but loved ones of those with mental illness as well. There's power in personal attention -- even in something as simple as a note. When it comes to self-harm, reaching out could have a lasting, positive impact.

"Send messages, call, text — do anything that you can to send the person a message of hope, care, concern and support," Dan Reidenberg, the executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, previously told The Huffington Post.

More than 42,000 Americans die by suicide each year, something that's truly preventable. The best way to reduce the risk is vigilance. Prioritizing proper treatment and offering support to those suffering from mental health issues are crucial to intervention -- and, it appears, simple yet personalized therapy techniques are an excellent supplement to that.

If you — or someone you know — need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.

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