Suicide prevention: relevant methods and factors

Suicide is not only the consequence of specific mental problems, but is associated with various global risk factors that affect large numbers of people. In this article we will analyze the most relevant factors of suicide and its prevention, As well as the most common methods of psychological intervention in these cases.

    Relevant factors of suicide

    According to data from the World Health Organization (2014), every year, more than 800,000 people commit suicide around the world; it is the tenth leading cause of death in the world. If we also add in the failed attempts, the number increases tenfold, or so, and many people have recurring suicidal thoughts that don’t follow through.

    The most common methods of suicide vary by location, but generally include suffocation, poisoning, and, in areas where they are easily accessible, the use of firearms. The risk of suicide is higher in people over 70 and in those aged 15 to 30; in the latter case, the richest countries are the exception.

    The conception of suicide as a taboo and a crime, Which is present in most cultures, has historically hampered human communication around this issue and its naturalization, and therefore also the prevention of this phenomenon. Even in the field of clinical psychology, this is a delicate issue due to the frequency of complaints from professionals.

    It is important to note that suicide is not just a mental problem that occurs in some people, but there are many variables that affect the general population as a whole or certain groups and increase the risk of suicide, such as stress. psychosocial and lack of financial resources.

    Some risk factors most clearly associated with suicideAccording to the available scientific literature, they are as follows:

    • Stressful life events, such as the death of a spouse, severe financial hardship, or bullying (in children)
    • Depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, OCD, and other psychological issues that lead to despair
    • Social stigma of mental disorders, especially suicidal rumination
    • Thoughts of suicide and references to the possibility of suicide
    • Abuse and dependence on alcohol, benzodiazepines, heroin and other central nervous system depressants
    • Personal or family history of suicide attempts
    • Access to firearms, poison or other lethal instruments
    • Traumatic brain injury and other brain damage

    How to prevent suicide?

    The traditional approach to suicide prevention has been to study risk factors in order to modify them in people in whom such ideas are detected. However, it is not very clear that this approach is effective; in this sense, the necessary measures are more likely to lie at a deeper level of society.

    WHO recommends that all States around the world adopt a series of suicide prevention measures, Which are also relevant from a practical point of view because of the high public cost that health care can entail. At the end of this article, you can find the reference to this text.

    This organization also recommends strategies such as emergency hospitalization for people at high risk of suicide, treatment of problems underlying suicidal ideation, participation in support groups and the practice of psychologically beneficial activities, such as physical exercise, meditation.

    On the other hand, it is important to mention what are the factors that protect against suicide. In general, we can highlight the following:

    • Presence of a strong social and family support network
    • Active participation in the community or society
    • Access to therapeutic and psychosocial services
    • Good interpersonal and problem-solving skills
    • High degree of self-control and self-efficacy expectations
    • Appropriate management of stressful life events
    • Treatment of underlying psychological disorders
    • Beliefs and values ​​that encourage seeking support or rejecting suicide

    Psychological intervention methods

    Of all the psychological intervention programs, the one that stands out the most for its effectiveness in preventing suicide is the one developed by Marsha Linehan for borderline personality disorder. Research shows a reduction in suicide attempts and hospitalizations among people treated with this method.

    about half of people who kill themselves meet criteria for major depressive disorder. In this sense, cognitive therapy and behavioral activation therapy, derived from the above, have been shown to be helpful in reducing suicidal ideation and other depressive symptoms.

    In the field of health psychology, mainly in collaboration with public entities, psychoeducation and emotional or social support tasks are sometimes promoted, and certain screening tests are also administered in populations at risk, such as adolescents. However, such interventions are quite rare in many places.

    More generally, it is important to note that suicide is mainly associated with a poor quality of life. Any policy measure that improves the satisfaction and well-being of people in a place will decrease their risk of suicide, for example by improving access to health services or increasing average wages.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Linehan, MM, Rizvi, SL, Shaw-Welch, S. and Page, B. (2000). Psychiatric aspects of suicidal behavior: personality disorders. In Hawton, K. and Van Heeringen, K. (Eds.), “International Handbook of Suicide and Suicide Attempt”. Sussex, UK: John Wiley & Sons.
    • World Health Organization (2014). Suicide prevention: a global imperative. Geneva: World Health Organization.

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