A new study led by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, MD, suggests that short-term psychosocial counseling could significantly reduce rates of suicide attempts and deaths among individuals who have already tried to take their own lives.

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Short-term counseling may significantly reduce suicide rates among high-risk individuals, according to new research.

Suicide is one of the 10 leading causes of death in the US, and it is estimated that more than 1 million Americans attempt to take their own lives each year.

According to the research team – led by Annette Erlangsen of the Department of Mental Health at Johns Hopkins – individuals who have already attempted suicide are at very high risk of a repeat attempt.

“We know that people who have attempted suicide are a high-risk population and that we need to help them,” says Erlangsen. “However, we did not know what would be effective in terms of treatment.”

The majority of people who attempt suicide have some form of mental disorder, such as depression or schizophrenia. These individuals may receive medication dependent on the type of disorder they have, which may help reduce their risk of suicide.

But in this study – published in The Lancet Psychiatry – Erlangsen and her team wanted to assess the effects of psychosocial counseling among individuals who have previously attempted suicide.

The team analyzed the health data of more than 65,000 people in Denmark who had attempted suicide between January 1st, 1992 and December 31st, 2010.

In Denmark, suicide prevention clinics across the country have been offering psychosocial counseling since 1992.

Over a 20-year follow-up period, the team monitored the outcomes 5,678 people who had undergone such counseling at one of eight clinics, comparing them with the outcomes of individuals who had not received this counseling. Individuals who received the counseling attended 6-10 sessions.

The team found that in the first year after counseling ceased, individuals who underwent the therapy were 27% less likely to repeat suicide attempts and were at 38% lower risk of death from all causes than those who did not receive the therapy.

After 5 years, repeat suicide attempts were 26% lower among the therapy group. After 10 years, the suicide rate was 229 per 100,000 for the therapy group and 314 per 100,000 for those who did not receive the therapy.

Commenting on their findings, Erlangsen says:

Now we have evidence that psychosocial treatment – which provides support, not medication – is able to prevent suicide in a group at high risk of dying by suicide.

Our findings provide a solid basis for recommending that this type of therapy be considered for populations at risk for suicide.”

Since the counseling sessions were tailored to each individual’s circumstances, the researchers are unable to say why the therapy was so effective for prevention of suicide. However, they say this is something they plan to investigate with future research.

In September, Medical News Today revealed that World Health Organization (WHO) have called for global action to reduce the number of deaths by suicide. In their report, WHO revealed that a person dies by suicide every 40 seconds.