Unsettling news about suicide in the US

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and unfortunately it’s starting on a somber note.

I am not a regular reader of the Centers for Disease Control’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), but a report widely picked up by the popular press did catch my eye this week, and it’s essential reading for anyone working in behavioral healthcare (MMWR, May 3, 2013).

The study analyzed data on US suicides for the period of 1999-2010.  It found “the age-adjusted suicide rate for adults aged 35–64 years in the United States increased significantly by 28.4%, from 13.7 per 100,000 population to 17.6 … . The suicide rate for men aged 35–64 years increased 27.3%, from 21.5 to 27.3, and the rate for women increased 31.5%, from 6.2 to 8.1.”

The study further notes

Most suicide research and prevention efforts have focused on youths and older adults. Although the analysis in this report does not explain why suicide rates are increasing so substantially among middle-aged adults, the results underscore the importance of prevention strategies that address the needs of persons aged 35–64 years, which includes the baby boomer cohort. Prevention efforts are particularly important for this cohort because of its size, history of elevated suicide rates, and movement toward older adulthood, the period of life that has traditionally been associated with the highest suicide rates… .

In the experience of PRMS, suicide is one of the two most common sources of professional liability claims involving psychiatrists, and successful claims often generate large damage awards. Thus, a significant and unexpected increase in suicides in a cohort not traditionally considered to be “high-risk” is cause for concern among all behavioral healthcare practitioners.

The study suggests that even if your patient census does not include the young and those 65 and older, the continuing economic turmoil and the “baby boomer effect” that impacts almost every aspect of life in the US may increase the chance that you will see more suicidal patients in your practice.

In next week’s blog, our VP of Risk Management will be providing risk management thoughts and resources to assist psychiatrists treating patients with suicidal behaviors.