Suicide Prevention Twist: Make Acts Less Dangerous: Unplanned Acts Often Completed

Article excerpt

SANTA FE, N.M. -- Preventing unplanned, impulsive suicidal acts calls for a very different strategy than that used in suicide prevention campaigns to date, Kenneth R. Conner, Psy.D., said at the annual conference of the American Association of Suicidology.

"Certainly, the lion's share of emphasis in suicide research and prevention is in anticipating and preventing any suicidal act from occurring. This is probably going to work best in preventing planned acts.

"However, another strategy--one that has received relatively little attention and focus from researchers and clinicians in the field--is to make suicidal acts themselves less dangerous," said Dr. Conner of the University of Rochester.

Greater planning of suicidal acts implies a psychologic deterioration over time. The logical preventive strategy emphasizes improved screening and detection of this mental deterioration, for example, through, the use of primary care physicians to detect and treat depression.

But unplanned suicide is likely to prove resistant to such an approach.

Indeed, reducing the availability of lethal methods is likely to be the key to preventing unplanned suicides. One successful example is restriction of handgun availability in the United States, which appears to have had a marked impact upon suicide rates in younger adolescents. In England, the restriction on the number of acetaminophen tablets that can be sold in a package is another attempt to reduce the lethality of a popular suicidal method, he said.

Most of the available scientific evidence indicates that planned suicidal acts are more lethal than unplanned ones. Nonetheless, unplanned acts account for a greater proportion of completed suicides than is generally recognized. For example, researchers in Houston who studied patients hospitalized for medically serious suicide attempts concluded that 24% of them thought about the act for less than 5 minutes beforehand.

Another classic study showed that 17% of a series of completed suicides involved less than 20 minutes of planning. …