Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US, with more than 40,000 suicides reported in 2013. But a new study published in The Lancet Psychiatry suggests one strategy that researchers say could help reduce suicide rates: blocking access to “suicide hotspots.”
The study – led by Prof. Jane Pirkis of the University of Melbourne in Australia – also suggests that other prevention strategies, such as placing crisis telephones and signage at high-risk suicide locations, can significantly reduce the number of suicide deaths at these sites.
To reach their findings, Prof. Pirkis and colleagues conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 23 articles representing 18 studies that assessed the effectiveness of three types of suicide prevention methods.
These included restricting access to suicide hotspots (through measures such as the installation of barriers or safety nets), encouraging help-seeking at suicide hotspots (such as the placement of telephones that link to suicide helplines) and increasing the chances of a third-party intervention (such as installing CCTV or introducing suicide patrols).
The team compared suicide rates at certain high-risk locations both before and after suicide interventions were introduced.
Overall, the team found that all three interventions led to a significant drop in suicide deaths at high-risk locations, reducing from an average of 5.8 suicide deaths annually (863 suicides over 150 study years) prior to the interventions being introduced to around 2.4 suicide deaths annually (211 suicides over 88 study years) after.
When combined with other interventions, the researchers found that restricting access to suicide hotspots led to a 91% annual reduction in suicide rates at high-risk locations, while a 93% yearly reduction in suicide rates was found when this intervention was used alone.
A 51% reduction in the number of annual suicides at high-risk locations was identified as a result of interventions encouraging help-seeking when used with other interventions. When used alone, however, these interventions led to a 61% drop in the number of suicides each year.
Methods to raise the likelihood of third-party intervention reduced the number of annual suicides at high-risk locations by 47% when combined with other strategies, according to the results.
Prof. Pirkis notes that suicide methods at high-risk locations are not the most common ways in which people take their own lives, and as such, these findings may only have a small impact on overall suicide rates.
However, she notes that suicides at high-risk locations often end in fatalities, attracting high-profile media attention and encouraging others to follow suit. “These methods of suicide also have a distressing impact on the mental wellbeing of witnesses and people who live or work near these locations,” she adds.
In an editorial linked to the study, Dr. Eric Caine, of the Injury Control Research Center for Suicide Prevention at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, NY, says restricting access to suicide hotspots could be an effective prevention strategy if adopted as part of widespread efforts:
“Blocking access to a hotspot can serve as an expression of important values, if done in a way that builds community awareness and support for broader efforts to prevent suicide, attempted suicide, and antecedent risks.
However, given the small numbers involved, blocking access to suicide hotspots should be part of an overall regional or national approach to suicide prevention, which together constitutes a well-considered, carefully implemented strategy intended to generate sustained measurable effects.”
Last month, Medical News Today reported on a study in which researchers claim to have identified behavior patterns that could predict a person’s risk for suicide.