SCIENCE
11/25/2014 03:37 pm ET Updated Nov 25, 2014

Talk Therapy Drastically Lowers Risk Of Suicide

Each year, suicide claims the lives of more than 40,000 Americans -- many of whom never seek professional care. But new research suggests that access to talk therapy may help to prevent these tragic instances among high-risk populations.

Even years after talk therapy treatment, individuals who have previously attempted suicide are much less likely to repeat a suicide attempt or die from suicide, according to the Johns Hopkins University research.

The researchers analyzed data for more than 65,000 Danish people who had attempted suicide between 1992 and 2010. Within that group, they examined over 5,600 who had received psychosocial therapy at a suicide prevention clinic in Denmark, and compared their data with a control group of over 17,000 people with similar risk factors who had not received therapy. The subjects were tracked for up to 20 years after their suicide attempt.

The data suggested that six to 10 therapy sessions was enough to make a long-term difference. Five years after the treatment ended, there were 26 percent fewer suicides among the group who underwent the treatment, as compared to a control group that did not. Even after 10 years, there was still a small decrease in suicides among the group who had received treatment.

"Our findings provide a solid basis for recommending that this type of therapy be considered for populations at risk for suicide," one of the study's authors, Dr. Elizabeth Stuart, said in a statement.

Previous research on the subject has been limited by the ethical issues of creating a study in which where some participants receive suicide prevention therapy and others don’t. But the Danish clinics proved to be a helpful tool for collecting and comparing data on the effectiveness of psychosocial therapy as a suicide prevention technique. Denmark -- a country with free universal health care access -- first opened its suicide prevention clinics in 1992 to help those who were at risk for suicide but did not belong in a psychiatric hospital. There are now eight clinics around the country.

Previous research has also found talk therapy to be an effective treatment for depressive symptoms. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a form of talk therapy, has been shown to be at least as effective as pharmaceutical interventions in treating mild to moderate depression.

The findings were published online in the journal Lancet Psychiatry.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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