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Psych Congress Kicks Off New Suicide Prevention Initiative

October 29, 2018

ORLANDO, Fla.—Suicide prevention experts discussed and debated the best ways to address rising suicide rates at a panel discussion and town hall event which concluded Psych Congress 2018.

The session was held to help Psych Congress develop a new educational initiative to give tools and training to mental health clinicians to help them better predict and prevent patient suicide.

Psych Congress cochairs Rakesh Jain, MD, MPH, and Charles L. Raison, MD, were joined in the discussion by: Jill Harkavy-Friedman, PhD, vice president of research for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; Mark De Santis, MS, PsyD, suicide prevention coordinator at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, South Carolina; David Sheehan, MD, MBA, Distinguished University Health Professor Emeritus, University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine, Tampa, Florida; and Jan York, PhD, PMHCS-BC, FAAN, affiliate faculty member of the Medical University of South Carolina College of Nursing, Charleston.

The group discussed suicide prevention topics such as hospitalization, contracting for safety, education and involvement of patients’ families, safety plans, and means restrictions.

Dr. Sheehan said currently available suicide treatments are inadequate and clinicians need to listen to patients more.

“We must be doing lots of things wrong because the suicide level has gone up 27% in the last 15 years,” he said.

He noted there are 12 drugs in development for the treatment of suicidality and said he believes some will be available “in the very near future” and will be “transformative.”

Dr. Friedman, however, said drugs will not be a panacea, and some may be addictive. Dr. Jain said the drugs in development are “far from perfect” and he doesn’t believe any will come to fruition in the next 5 years.

To help guide discussion in the session, a poll was conducted online during the conference. Of the 443 responses received:

  • 88% said they have had a patient attempt suicide;

  • 61% said they have had a patient die by suicide;

  • Less than 30% said they strongly agree “I am confident in my ability to take appropriate action when I suspect a patient may be having suicidal thoughts or I think may be planning to commit suicide;”

  • Less than 6% said they have attended specific suicide prevention training more than once a year in the past 5 years. One-third said they attended training once in that time, and 31% said they had not attended any training in that time;

  • 75% said they would benefit “much” or “very much” from training on suicide assessment and management;

  • 3% said they have been sued as result of a patient dying by suicide;

  • 88% said they are concerned about being sued as a result of a patient dying by suicide;

  • Nearly half said they see at least 41 patients per week; 29% said they see 51 or more patients per week.

Dr. Jain said the discussion was the first step in what will an ongoing initiative by Psych Congress’ to reduce suicidality.

“We want to reduce the burden of suicidality,” he said. “We promise you this: we will be covering the topic of suicide in great detail. The reason why we want to do that is suicide is a genuine problem. We’re not going to solve it all today. But we got the conversation going.”

—Terri Airov


“Suicide prevention initiative: panel discussion and town hall event.” Presented at Psych Congress 2018: Orlando, FL; October 28, 2018.

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