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Description: Do you think you would be able to tell if someone close to you was contemplating suicide? There ARE things you could/should look for (more on those below). However, how do you think a mental health professional (Psychiatrist, Clinical Psychologist, Psychiatric Nurse, or Social Worker) would respond to this question? Does the typical “what to look for …what to do” advice apply to some or to most suicidal cases? Do the drugs that psychiatrists have access to help? Do the therapy techniques that are available make a difference? Think about what you hope the answers to those questions might be (and perhaps a bit about what they might actually be) and then read the article linked below to see what a practicing Psychiatrist has to say on the matter.

Source: The Empty Promise of Suicide Prevention, Amy Barnhorst, The New York Times.

Date: April 26, 2019

Photo Credit: Rachel Levit, The New York Times

Article Link:

The first case talked about in the article describes a build up towards suicide that was noticed by members of the individual’s family, got the person referred to a psychiatrist who suggested a course of drug treatment that successfully curtailed the individuals suicidal thoughts and lead to them moving back towards a positive life view. The author then goes on to point out that such cases are rare and that, while there are drugs that can be of assistance in treating suicidal ideation (thinking about killing one’s self), there are impulsive acts that arise with little or no warning signs and there are life circumstances that do not improve when the person living those circumstances starts taking lithium or clozapine. What to do? Well we should all be familiar with signs of suicidal ideation (see further reading section below), we should not shy away from asking people we know how they are doing and if they are thinking about suicide, and we should be thinking hard about ways that we (at community and legislative levels) can reduce access to lethal means of attempting suicide and address the social circumstances that give rise to despair. It is not even close to being all about psychiatric drugs.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What are some of the indicators that someone may be contemplating suicide?
  2. What are some of the non-psychological factors that can increase the possibility of suicidal actions?
  3. What sorts of things need to be considered when we are trying to think of ways to address suicide rates?

References (Read Further):

Suicide Prevention and Support,


Rudd, M. D., Berman, A. L., Joiner Jr, T. E., Nock, M. K., Silverman, M. M., Mandrusiak, M., … & Witte, T. (2006). Warning signs for suicide: Theory, research, and clinical applications. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 36(3), 255-262.

Van Orden, K. A., Lynam, M. E., Hollar, D., & Joiner, T. E. (2006). Perceived burdensomeness as an indicator of suicidal symptoms. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 30(4), 457-467.

Smith, J. M., Alloy, L. B., & Abramson, L. Y. (2006). Cognitive vulnerability to depression, rumination, hopelessness, and suicidal ideation: Multiple pathways to self-injurious thinking. Suicide and Life-threatening behavior, 36(4), 443-454.

Thompson, R., Proctor, L. J., English, D. J., Dubowitz, H., Narasimhan, S., & Everson, M. D. (2012). Suicidal ideation in adolescence: Examining the role of recent adverse experiences. Journal of adolescence, 35(1), 175-186.

Madjar, N., Walsh, S. D., & Harel-Fisch, Y. (2018). Suicidal ideation and behaviors within the school context: Perceived teacher, peer and parental support. Psychiatry research, 269, 185-190.