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The World Health Organization’s Mental Health Surveys recently reported their results on suicide in “Treatment of Suicidal People Around the World”.  This survey involved over 100,000 people from 21 countries, with a response rate of 72.1%.  It is the most comprehensive survey of people with suicidal thoughts and actions ever undertaken and provides a unique glimpse into the lives of people who were suicidal in the year prior to the survey.

Who Gives and Receives Treatment for Suicidal Behavior?

Only 39% of people who engaged in suicidal behavior received any form of treatment related to emotional difficulties.  Of those who sought care, only 23% received specialty mental health care, while 22% received care from a general medical provider and 11% sought non-healthcare services (e.g., clergy, alternative healers, teachers, friends, etc.).  Not surprisingly, treatment for suicidal behavior was most prevalent in high income countries and less likely in middle and lower income countries.

Why Don’t People Who Are Suicidal Receive Help?

The most common reason people reported for not seeking help for suicidal thoughts was because they wanted to handle the problem on their own (27%); believed the problem would go away (12%); told themselves the problem was not severe enough to get help (9%); and fear of what others would think (stigma; 7%).  Contrary to popular beliefs, stigma was consistently the lowest rated attitudinal barrier to seeking help for suicidal thoughts.  Instead, it seems that people believe that one should be able to handle suicidal thoughts and behaviors, which are potentially fatal, on their own.

In addition to these attitudinal barriers to receiving help, people experiencing suicidal behaviors also encountered some structural barriers to accessing care.  For example, people reported not accessing treatment for suicidal thoughts because of finances (12%); lack of treatment availability (11%); transportation problems (4%) and inconvenience (4%).

Clearly, attitudes about help seeking, even in life threatening situations, can have fatal outcomes.  In fact, attitudinal barriers play a large role than finances or stigma in explaining why people who have suicidal thoughts, plans or attempts do not receive treatment.

How Can We Help Those With Suicidal Thoughts?

First, we must recognized that popular beliefs that suicidal people do not seek help because of stigma or finances are less important than self imposed attitudes about seeking help for suicidal thoughts.  Public awareness programs, like the Dennis Jones Living Well Initiative, can provide and promote education about the relationship between suicidal thoughts, behavior and death.  The Front Porch acts as a portal to available treatment services that serve those suffering from suicidal despair.  Suicide prevention programs, including those that address the help seeking process, can also lower attitudinal barriers. Primary care physicians, clergy and other professionals often require assistance in getting suicidal people to mental health providers.  Whatever form these endeavors take, they must based on accurate facts that address the attitudes that people hold, which are the primary reasons people do not seek help when they are experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Fortunately, there is now an Intensive Outpatient Program in Memphis, TN that has been proven to be effective in the  treatment of depressed individuals with suicidal thoughts in six peer reviewed treatment outcome studies.   Our programs provide services to those who need more treatment than one hour a week, but less than 24 hour care, by providing three hours of treatment per day, three to five days per week, in an intensive outpatient setting.  If you or a loved one is showing signs of depression or anxiety, they should be assessed by a trained mental health professional who can help design a treatment plan that can result in recovery.  Treatment for depression and suicidal thoughts can be highly successful.  Call us at 901-682-6136 to schedule an appointment.