Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 10 and 24, with more than 4,600 victims each year and countless more attempts. But after a youth leaves the emergency room (ED) after an attempted suicide, little is usually done in the way of treatment or suicide prevention afterward when they are still high-risk and at their most vulnerable for what could possibly mean another attempt. But an uplifting study from researchers at UCLA found that specialized mental health intervention after ED visits can help these youth after being discharged.

“Youths who are treated for suicidal behavior in emergency departments are at very high risk for future attempts,” said study author Joan Asarnow. “Because a large proportion of youths seen in the ED for suicide don’t receive outpatient treatment after discharge, the United States National Strategy for Suicide Prevention identifies the ED as an important suicide prevention site. So, a national objective is to increase the rates of mental health follow-up treatment for suicidal patients coming out of EDs.”

The study consisted of 181 suicidal youths at two EDs in Los Angeles County who were either assigned usual ED treatment or an enhanced mental health intervention. The enhanced intervention consisted of a family-based crisis-therapy session designed to increase the patient’s desire for outpatient follow-up treatment as well as his or her safety. It also offered telephone contacts connecting the families with further outpatient treatment.

The researchers found that the enhanced mental health intervention was associated with higher rates of follow-up treatment for the patients; 92 percent received follow-up treatment after discharge among those who participated, compared with 76 percent in the standard ED treatment group.

Asarnow viewed the results of the study as both positive and negative.

“The results underscore the urgent need for improved community outpatient treatment for suicidal youths,” she said. “Unfortunately, the follow-up data collected at about two months after discharge did not indicate clinical or functioning differences among youths who received community outpatient treatment and those who did not.”

Source: UCLA

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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