Suicide prevention: A public health approach and a focus on vulnerable populations

Sep 30, 2018

Our understanding of suicide has evolved over the years, as have prevention methods. The Center for the Study and Prevention of Suicide (CSPS) at the University of Rochester is dedicated to better understanding suicide and how to prevent it.

Joining us on "Take Care" to discuss is Kimberly Van Orden, associate professor in the department of psychiatry and principal investigator at the HOPE (Helping Older People Engage) lab.

At CSPS, they take a public health approach to suicide prevention.

"It's really broadening the lens from just looking at suicide as a clinical problem," Van Orden said. Their approach allows them to reach people at risk that they may not come in contact with otherwise, members of the community, Van Orden said.

As far as research is concerned, there aren't many randomized trials that show the best ways to prevent suicide.

"What we do know is treating mental illness is important," said Van Orden.

The older population

Older adults have the highest rates of suicide of any demographic group in the U.S., according to Van Orden. Couple that with the fact that suicide rates rise with age worldwide and the issue becomes much more grave.

Collaborative care models empower primary care physicians to help monitor symptoms and check in with patients, according to Van Orden, because the older population is less likely to seek help.

"It just doesn't get as much attention," Van Orden said. "There's a lot of ageism in our culture."

Van Orden believes that primary care is an important part of the fight against suicide but isn't ready to sign on to mandatory screening just yet. She makes the point that even behavioral interventions can cause harm.

"I think we need research to figure out the effect of screening in primary care on a large scale before we might take that approach," Van Orden said.