Talk: Can we predict and #prevent #suicide?

Students are rolling back into town, and many of them will already be stressed out. Some will try suicide; some will succeed.

As the CDC reported this summer, suicide rates are rising.

Can suicide be prevented?

A top researcher asking that question will be in town Thursday. It’s a bit of a hoof and in the middle of the day, but Maria Oquendo. of UPenn will be at McLean Hospital for a talk on on “Suicidal Subtypes: Delineating Phenotypes to Identify Underlying Biosignatures.”  Noon, Service Building, Pierce Hall.   Details.

Find some of her work here.

Her effort dovetails with that of Matthew Nook of Harvard, who was described in an NYTimes article as “the suicide detective.” 

From the CDC

Suicide is a leading cause of death in the US. Suicide rates increased in nearly every state from 1999 through 2016. Mental health conditions are often seen as the cause of suicide, but suicide is rarely caused by any single factor. In fact, many people who die by suicide are not known to have a diagnosed mental health condition at the time of death. Other problems often contribute to suicide, such as those related to relationships, substance use, physical health, and job, money, legal, or housing stress. Making sure government, public health, healthcare, employers, education, the media and community organizations are working together is important for preventing suicide. Public health departments can bring together these partners to focus on comprehensive state and community efforts with the greatest likelihood of preventing suicide.

States and communities can:

  • Identify and support people at risk of suicide.
  • Teach coping and problem-solving skills to help people manage challenges with their relationships, jobs, health, or other concerns.
  • Promote safe and supportive environments. This includes safely storing medications and firearms to reduce access among people at risk.
  • Offer activities that bring people together so they feel connected and not alone.
  • Connect people at risk to effective and coordinated mental and physical healthcare.
  • Expand options for temporary help for those struggling to make ends meet.
  • Prevent future risk of suicide among those who have lost a loved one to suicide.




Rocking the health news at The Boston Globe and STAT.

An incomplete list, but worth noting. globe doors

Suicide rates up

How to get help

Treating drug addiction with drugs

Five myths about addiction meds

Community hospitals struggle to compete with better-paid rivals

For smaller companies, a presence at BIO conference is a big deal

STAT: The Gates Foundation rolls outs details of its new biotech, one without a profit motive

The patient was saying sexist things. How I handled him made me part of the problem


How to predict suicide risk: A Harvard researcher proposes a test



The New York Times Magazine profiles the work of Harvard psychologist Matthew K. Nock, the director of Harvard University’s Laboratory for Clinical and Developmental Research. Word association begins to describe, but probably oversimplifies, his approach.

The story calls 39-year-old Nock, as “one of the most original and influential suicide researchers in the world.”

The inscrutability of suicide has not kept most psychologists who study it from theorizing about why people kill themselves. Nock, however, tends to approach theories from a different angle. “I think it’s easy to generate explanations,” he said recently. “It’s much harder to test out these different explanations and see whether the data support them or not.”

In 2003,  Nock approached his colleague about the Implicit Association Test, “famous for its ability to measure biases that subjects either don’t care to acknowledge or don’t realize they have on topics like race, sexuality, gender and age. Nock wondered if the I.A.T. could be configured to measure people’s bias for and against being alive and being dead, and Banaji thought it was worth a try. They experimented with several versions in Nock’s lab and at the psychiatric-emergency department at Mass General. Then they put their best one on a laptop and offered it to Mass General patients, many of whom had recently threatened or attempted suicide; 157 agreed to take it. Hunched in plastic waiting-room chairs or propped up in cots as they waited for a clinician to admit or discharge them, they were often grateful for a distraction…The I.A.T., it seemed, was picking up a heightened signal of suicidal tendencies that the most commonly used method for assessing risk — a clinical interview — had been powerless to detect.

More from The Washington Post.

Update 7/10: Knight Science Tracker knocks this as a single source story.



Study: Increase in older women attempting suicide via drug overdose

Massachusetts and several other New England state participate in a federal project called the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), “a public health surveillance system that monitors drug-related hospital emergency department (ED) visits and drug-related deaths to track the impact of drug use, misuse, and abuse in the U.S.”

The HHS project just released number that found the number of women over the age of 50 attempting suicide via drugs rose 49 percent between 2005 and 2009. The study concludes that The increase reflects the increase in
the number of women in that age group, not an increase in visits.

But, it appears that demographicd don’t explain the entire increase: :23.8 ED visits per 100,000 population in 2005  v. 32.3 visits per 100,000 population in 2009.

This from the study:

The mental and physical health needs of women vary across the life span, and older womenrepresent one of the Nation’s fastest growing populations.4 Problems such as pain and sleepdisorders can lead to increased use of prescription drugs to treat theseconditions. Also, older women may experience depression because of health
changes or other negative life events. Expanded research on women’s agingissues and the potential use of these drugs as a method of, or influence on, suicide attempts is critical

More on the study and Boston specific trends in drug-related ED visits here.