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The Silent Crisis of Autism and Suicide

Sad man sits alone in a hallway.

Adults with ASD have three times the risk of dying by suicide.

People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) face numerous challenges in life, and one of the most tragic is a highly elevated risk of dying by suicide.

A 2021 study found that adults with ASD have more than three times the rate of both suicide attempts and suicide completion compared to the neurotypical population. For women with autism, that figure increases to four times the suicide rate. For autistic individuals with co-occurring mental health disorders, the suicide rate is 92% higher than those without ASD.

Given these findings, mental health professionals who work with autistic patients need to be acutely aware of the danger and respond accordingly. Suicide is preventable. Preventing suicide in the autistic population requires tailored interventions and strategies to meet the needs of individuals with ASD.

Why are people with ASD at increased risk of suicide?

Numerous studies have investigated the reasons for the correlation between autism and suicide. Many have focused on “masking” and “camouflaging” behavior; that is, autistic people feeling social pressure to blend in, which is emotionally and mentally exhausting. Another theory is that autistic people have high rates of trauma, and trauma, in turn, increases the risk of dying by suicide.

A recent article in Psychology Today suggested that the problem goes deeper, however. Autistic people have a neurological condition called hyperconnectivity: their whole-brain activity is very high. This translates into being overwhelmed by their environments and social demands, both at work and at home. And feeling overwhelmed, in turn, increases the risk of suicidal thoughts.

The Psychology Today article stated that people with autism can thrive when their support needs are met. Among other things, that means creating quiet spaces and emphasizing flexibility. It means ensuring that autistic people spend time every day in spaces where they are not expected to conform to neurotypical expectations. It means giving people with ASD room to be themselves.

Warning signs of suicidality in people with autism

An important part of suicide prevention is recognizing when someone may be at risk of suicide and promptly responding with appropriate interventions. Warning signs of suicide often present differently in people with ASD. According to the 988 Lifeline, key warning signs include:

  • Sudden or increased withdrawal.
  • Acute distress with no words to express.
  • A current traumatic event.
  • Self-harm behavior.
  • Worsening symptoms of anxiety or depression.
  • A new focus on talk of suicide or death-related topics.
  • Perseverating and ruminating on suicide.
  • Hopelessness.
  • Statements about losing a sense of purpose in life or reason for being.
  • Acquiring suicidal means or making plans.

People who know an autistic person well are often best equipped to recognize these warning signs and respond accordingly. Medical professionals who work with autistic patients also need to know these warning signs and recommend the appropriate medical interventions to prevent self-harm or suicide attempts.

Our law firm fights for accountability for families

When families lose loved ones to preventable suicides, they deserve answers. The Law Offices of Skip Simpson stands up for families and holds negligent medical professionals accountable when they fail to protect patients. If you have lost a loved one to suicide completion, give us a call or contact us online for a free, confidential consultation. We’re based in Texas but serve families nationwide.

Families Seek Accountability For Inpatient Suicides

In the inpatient department. The corridor has a quiet atmosphere with a modern high-tech design.

Negligent facilities need to be held responsible

Every year throughout the United States, many people considering suicide are admitted to an inpatient mental health facility for protection and treatment to stabilize their mental health condition. One of the most important responsibilities of these facilities is to take measures that prevent patients from taking their own lives. Sadly, these measures are not always followed – and many suicide attempts result in death.

For many years, Skip Simpson has filed successful lawsuits on behalf of family members to hold facilities accountable for neglecting this extremely important responsibility.

“When people go into the hospital to be protected, it’s a systemic issue,” said Attorney Skip Simpson in a article. “That means it’s not just the nurse, it’s not just the physician, but it’s the hospital itself. What happens is that the money is not spent to properly train and supervise those people who are watching the patients.”

Treatment by unqualified and unlicensed interns

One case filed by an attorney in New Jersey involves Anthony Sun, a 23-year-old pharmacy student who was experiencing depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. After two suicide attempts and stays at two different inpatient facilities, Sun was put in the care of Christian Health Care Center and placed in an outpatient program.

On Dec. 1, 2017, Sun could not be located after his mother came to pick him up. Following a search, his mother found him hanging by a noose from a tree.

According to the lawsuit, most of Sun’s intake assessments – which included an assessment for risk of suicide – and treatment plan were done by a student intern who was unlicensed and unsupervised. The intern made critical errors in both the assessments and the treatment plan, the suit alleges.

Inadequate measures taken to prevent suicide

Another case in New Jersey involves Jaxson, a 16-year-old with female characteristics who later transitioned. Court documents note that Jaxson had attempted suicide and reported thoughts of hanging himself. He was taken to Morriston Medical Center and then transferred to Summit Oaks Hospital.

Measures had been taken at Morristown to prevent Jaxson from harming himself. These measures included having a sitter to watch him, placement in a room across the nursing station with the door always open, and removal of personal articles of clothing.

But these measures were not taken at Summit Oaks. Jaxson was placed in a corner room away from the nursing station with no sitter. He was observed in 15-minute intervals. There were two beds, fully made with sheets. Jaxson was found hanging by a noose made from a bedsheet that was affixed to a heavy wooden door.

The families of loved ones deserve justice

Simpson said 15-minute observation intervals are common for suicidal patients. But the problem, he notes, is that patients who hang themselves lose consciousness after just 45 seconds, and brain damage occurs after two minutes. After five minutes, the patient usually dies.

“They sometimes say, ‘Well, that’s the standard of care.’ And it’s not,” he said. “The standard of care means that they’re on either one-to-one or line of sight. The reason why they want them on every 15-minute watch is because it’s less expensive.”

Simpson also notes that hanging with a bedsheet is the most common method of suicide for people in institutions.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate in the U.S. grew by 37% from 2000 to 2018. After declining in 2019 and 2020, the suicide rate grew 5% in 2021 and another 2.6% in 2022.

The Law Offices of Skip Simpson is dedicated to suicide prevention. Attorney Skip Simpson is well aware of how negligence at inpatient facilities can have devastating consequences. When families have lost loved ones to suicide that could have been prevented, he provides compassionate representation and demands accountability.

Learn more about how we can help. Contact us to schedule a free consultation.

CDC Data Reveals Disturbing Surge in Suicide Rates

Teenager girl with depression sitting alone on the floor in the dark room. . Black and white photo

Much more needs to be done to reverse this deadly trend.

A recent analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has shown that suicide mortality in the United States has increased dramatically in the 21st century thus far, even as global suicide rates have dropped.

Overall, suicide rates increased by 30% between 2000 and 2018, before declining somewhat in 2019 and 2020.

The data reveals mental health challenges in specific segments of the population

The largest increase came in the American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN) population, with a 65% increase among AIAN women and a 35% increase among AIAN men. Suicide mental health more broadly plays a significant role in the shorter life expectancy among the AIAN community: about seven years less than the national average.

“The findings underscore the need to address underlying mental health issues in AIAN populations and emphasize the importance of implementing community-based suicide prevention strategies tailored to specific racial groups,” lead investigator Bibha Dhungel, DrPH, of Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan, told Medscape Medical News.

White men had the next-largest increase at 29%, as well as the highest overall suicide mortality rate. Suicide death rates tend to be higher among men than women, even though attempts are more common among women, primarily because men are far more likely to use firearms and firearms are by far the deadliest of the commonly used suicide methods.

A broad crisis that affects all ages and demographic groups

The overall suicide death rate among Americans is unacceptably high: nearly 46,000 deaths per year, or about one every 11 minutes.

As high as suicide mortality in the United States has become, looking at death rates alone obscures an even broader mental health crisis. In 2020, for example, an estimated 12.2 million American adults seriously considered suicide. Of those, 3.2 million planned a suicide attempt, and 1.2 million actually attempted suicide. And those numbers are only among adults; suicide rates among children and teens have risen, too.

The silver lining is that suicide is preventable. While a still-persistent myth claims that if someone is suicidal, there’s nothing more that can be done, the reality is that people at risk of suicide are highly conflicted and ambivalent. With timely help, support, and intervention, suicide risk can be mitigated and lives can be saved.

Friends, family members, and colleagues of people at risk of suicide can save lives by growing their awareness and learning basic suicide prevention methods, such as the QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) method. And professionals who work with at-risk populations, such as social workers, legal professionals, and medical professionals, need to step up, learn the warning signs, and make timely and appropriate referrals to suicide prevention resources to save lives.

Our law firm pursues accountability and justice for families

Suicide is preventable, and unfortunately, too many preventable suicides occur because of the negligence of physicians, medical professionals, and mental health facilities. Doctors who care for suicidal patients need to conduct suicide screening, and then—if suicidal risk is detected, a systematic suicide risk assessment must be performed to determine appropriate suicide management.

If patients are to be treated outpatient, there must be more frequent visits and phone consultations each week; family members (when appropriate) are fully informed of the patient’s needs and made part of the treatment team; this means the patient needs to waive confidentiality and told why it is necessary.

These actions and the rationale need to be documented. If suicide risk is so high that the outpatient physician is uncertain the patient will live to the next appointment, the patient should be hospitalized for protection from suicide. Protection in the facility means one-to-one or line of sight monitoring. When healthcare clinicians and mental health facilities do not meet standards of care, the consequences can be tragic. We work to hold them accountable.

If you have lost a loved one to suicide completion, the Law Offices of Skip Simpson would be honored to listen to your story and explain your legal rights and options. Give us a call or contact us online for a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation. Our firm is based in Texas but serves families nationwide.

How “Virtual Hope Boxes” Might Help Prevent Suicide

The word "hope" inscribed on a heart shape against a green outdoor background.

Leveraging technology to provide options for people at risk.

While we’ve written before about the ways technology can play a role in increasing suicide risk, it’s important to know that digital tools can also be used as effective suicide prevention methods.

Earlier this year, a study found that “virtual hope boxes” could be helpful tools for individuals who experience suicidal thoughts to get through moments of crisis. While more research is needed, these promising findings highlight a potentially lifesaving tool.

What is a “hope box” and how can it be used for suicide prevention?

The traditional “hope box” is a tool used in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) to help patients who experience suicidal ideation. Hope boxes may contain:

  • Reminders of social connections (such as photographs of friends and family).
  • Uplifting memories of life experiences (such as concert tickets and souvenirs).
  • Distraction tools (such as fidget toys or puzzles).
  • Reminders of reasons for living.
  • Items with symbolic significance to the individual.

Creating a hope box is a deeply personal and individualized effort. Mental health professionals work with clients to identify memories, experiences, people, and locations that help them to feel hopeful, then fill the box with items that represent those sources of hope. The hope box itself is a tangible reminder of a choice the individual has made to go on living, choosing hope over despair. It also becomes a tangible coping strategy during moments of crisis that can disrupt the cycle of despair and suicidal ideation.

The value of the virtual hope box

A “virtual hope box” is a digital, mobile adaptation of the physical hope box. According to the study, virtual hope boxes contain six main components:

  • Visual reminders of important people and memories, such as photos and videos.
  • Distraction tools, such as word searches and picture puzzles.
  • Relaxation exercises, such as guided meditation.
  • Inspirational quotes, which can be user-supplied.
  • Coping cards containing adaptive behaviors.
  • Supportive contacts, including user-added contacts as well as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The advantages of an app-based solution are portability and usability. In a moment of crisis, often, the most valuable intervention is the one that the at-risk person can access right away. Unlike a physical hope box, which requires the individual to carry numerous physical items, the smartphone-based analog is accessible at the touch of a button.

According to the study, virtual hope box users gave the app-based tool high marks for usefulness and said they were likely to use it again. Most of the students studied took advantage of the hope box at least once.

Suicide is a preventable tragedy, and mental health professionals need to use all available tools

As encouraging as the study results on virtual hope boxes may be, the research was limited to a small population of mostly female undergraduate students. More research is needed to investigate whether these tools are helpful for other populations, such as older adults and psychiatric patients, and to further investigate their effectiveness in actually preventing suicide.

However, the study results speak to a larger truth: suicide is preventable, and the right interventions at the right time can make all the difference. Medical professionals who treat patients who are at risk of suicide need to use the tools at their disposal to intervene and mitigate those risks. The consequences of failure to do so can be catastrophic.

If you have lost a loved one, our law firm is here to help

When preventable suicides occur due to medical negligence and mental health malpractice, families are left reeling and searching for answers. Our mission at the Law Offices of Skip Simpson is to fight for accountability and justice for those families. If you have lost a loved one to suicide completion, give us a call or contact us online for a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation. We are based in Texas and represent families nationwide.

Making Peace With Chronic Pain Can Reduce Suicide Risk, Study Shows

A depressed man sitting on a couch is being offered support by a friend.

Research shows that people diagnosed with chronic health conditions have significantly higher suicide risk than the general population. And one of the most common chronic conditions in the United States is chronic pain.

Over 50 million U.S. adults experience some degree of chronic pain (defined as pain that lasts at least 3 months), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of those, over 17 million experience “high-impact” chronic pain; that is, pain that results in substantial restriction to daily activities. Any degree of chronic pain is associated with elevated suicide risk, and the more severe the pain, the greater the risk.

Fortunately, research suggests that there is a pathway to mitigate that risk. According to University of Texas San Antonio (UTSA) professor Willie Hale, people with chronic pain can reduce their suicide risk by “making peace with their pain.”

Understanding the link between chronic pain and suicide risk

According to Hale’s research, there are two principal reasons why people with chronic pain are at elevated risk of suicide. One is intuitive: they may simply want their pain to stop.

The other explanation comes from the Interpersonal Theory of Suicide: people with chronic pain may feel like a burden to others. Chronic pain can cause people to need help with activities of daily living or opt out of social activities. They may feel bad for asking their caregivers and family members for help. They may be unable to work and feel like a burden on their families or on society financially. And research has shown that feeling like a burden increases the risk of suicide.

The longer chronic pain lasts, the more entrenched these patterns of thinking and feeling become. However, with appropriate care and clinical intervention, chronic pain patients can “short-circuit the relationship between pain and suicide cognitions,” according to Hale.

Coming to a place of pain acceptance mitigates suicide risk

Distinct from managing the pain itself, which may or may not be feasible, people with chronic pain can minimize their suicide risk by reaching a place of acceptance. Hale defines “chronic pain acceptance” as “the ability to engage in activities that are meaningful toward an individual’s life goals, even if that means experiencing pain, as well as the ability to refrain from attempts to reduce or avoid pain.”

As such, acceptance and commitment therapy may serve as an effective clinical intervention to help individuals push through their chronic pain and participate in meaningful activities. In addition to interrupting those feelings of being a burden, reaching a place of acceptance can help individuals maintain social connectedness, which is a key factor in reducing the risk of suicide.
“If you can move people from making no peace with their pain to just being a little bit okay with it, that cuts their suicide risk in half,” said Hale. “And if you can get them to a high level of pain acceptance, it eliminates that risk altogether.”

Medical professionals who treat people with chronic pain need to be aware of the risk

People with chronic pain are usually also under the care of a pain management doctor or other medical professional. Unfortunately, too many doctors who treat people with physical pain are not adequately trained in mental health and suicide prevention. They may overlook the warning signs and fail to refer patients for mental health treatment. The consequences can be deadly.

The research is clear that people with chronic pain are at elevated risk of dying by suicide. Medical professionals need to take that risk into account when they care for patients with chronic pain. When they fail to follow standards of care, they should be held accountable.

If you have lost a loved one to suicide completion, contact the Law Offices of Skip Simpson for a free, confidential legal consultation. There is no obligation to hire us, just answers about your family’s legal rights and options. We are based in Texas and represent families nationwide.

Survey: Suicide Prevention Should Be A Priority

teen consoling friend; suicide malpractice lawyer

A company aims to reduce attempts

A new CVS Health/Harris Poll survey shows that suicide continues to be a crisis in the United States, with 89% of adults in the country identifying suicide prevention efforts as a major priority in our society.

“Our nation continues to face a mental health and suicide crisis, especially among youth and older adults,” said Cara McNulty, President of Behavioral Health and Mental Well-being at CVS Health. “However, with timely, evidence-based interventions, and public awareness efforts, we know suicide is preventable.”

This survey was conducted online in August, with 2,016 U.S. adults age 18 and over who agreed to answer questions about sensitive and personal information about mental health, including topics related to suicide.

Other findings in the survey:

  • 18% of survey respondents said they were plagued with suicidal thoughts within the past year
  • 36% said there were times within the past year when they contemplated suicide.
  • 32% said they strongly agree that they can recognize the warning signs of someone potentially at risk for suicide
  • 43% said they are strongly aware of resources offering support and information on suicide prevention.

A commitment to mental health

CVS Health also reported on its efforts to reduce suicide attempts among Aetna members. (Aetna is a subsidiary of CVS Health.) When compared with a 2019 baseline, there was a 16% reduction in suicide attempts among adult Commercial members.

Attempts among 13-17-year-olds were still above the 2019 baseline, but there was a 13% reduction from 2022 to 2021.

“Every suicide that is prevented is a life that is saved,” said Taft Parsons III, M.D., Vice President and Chief Psychiatric Officer at CVS Health. “We are working closely with our partners to implement targeted interventions for youth and develop similar programming for older adults. Together we can help raise awareness of the ongoing crisis and connect those in need to evidence-based resources that can help save lives.”

Resources to help prevent suicide

CVS Health said it has several partnerships and programs in place to support Aetna members, including:

  • an outreach program for high-risk youth members
  • access to specialized outpatient programs, including a suicide prevention program combining digital solutions, telehealth sessions, and specially trained clinicians
  • a program that sends a simple message of hope to Aetna members who are discharged from an intensive level of care related to suicide.

“We’ve developed an approach based on early detection, data-backed support methods, programs for those that have lost someone to suicide and community education to help those in need and empower their support systems,” said McNulty. “Every life saved is worth the effort.”

We demand accountability

The Law Offices of Skip Simpson is passionate about suicide prevention. Psychiatric hospitals and mental health care providers have a responsibility to try to prevent patient suicides. When that responsibility is not met, responsible parties should be held accountable.

Attorney Skip Simpson is a nationally recognized expert in inpatient suicide law. He has represented many families nationwide following the death of a loved one by suicide. He understands what they are going through and fights to help them seek justice – and works to help prevent future suicides.

Learn more about how we can help. Contact us to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

Newly Identified Brain Marker May Indicate Future Suicide Risk

Texas suicide lawyer

Promising research may help to shape future interventions

Numerous risk factors for suicide are well known, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, a history of self-harm, job loss, divorce, suffering from frantic hopelessness or a state of entrapment defined as being stuck in a life situation that is painful and intolerable, and a feeling that all routes of escape are blocked.

Additionally, affective disturbance (i.e., emotional pain, rapid spikes of negative emotions, extreme anxiety, anhedonia), loss of cognitive control (i.e., rumination, cognitive rigidity, ruminative flooding, failed thought suppression), overarousal (i.e., agitation, hypervigilance, irritability, insomnia), and social withdrawal (i.e., reduction in activity, evasive communication) are important factors to consider.

However, measuring suicide risk is always a challenge, in part because there are many other people who have the same risk factors but do not attempt suicide. Why do some people transition from suicidal ideation to planning to actually attempting suicide, and others do not?

The answers to this question are complex and defy neat categorization. However, a new study has shone light on at least one piece of the puzzle: the role of unusual connectivity in the brain.

The link between brain connectivity and suicide risk

In the study, researchers from Boston University and the VA Boston Healthcare System examined veterans who had a history of trauma and showed symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. The participating veterans were given a resting functional MRI scan, which tracks communication between brain regions and networks to show how different areas interact.

The researchers then compared the brain connectivity in veterans who had reported at least one suicide attempt and in those who did not. To emphasize, these individuals had otherwise equivalent psychiatric symptoms; the only significant difference was the history of suicide attempts.

The MRI results showed significant differences in important connections in the brain between the veterans with a history of suicide attempts and the control group, both before and after the suicide attempts themselves, specifically in the right middle temporal gyrus (right MTG). Those differences affected cognitive control (adjusting behavior to fit a certain goal) and self-referential thought processing (reflecting on the past and thinking about what we need to do in the future).

Researchers also found abnormal connectivity in the right amygdala in veterans with a history of suicide attempts, but only after the attempts, making this finding less useful for predictive purposes. However, this is a significant clue when it comes to identifying why previous suicide attempts increase the risk of future attempts.

Identifying these brain changes could be a powerful suicide risk assessment method

According to the BU and VA researchers, these findings have the potential to transform suicide assessment by providing a measure of suicidality that does not require self-disclosure of suicidal thoughts. Most current suicide risk assessment methods are dependent on the suicidal person disclosing their thoughts and behaviors. (The Suicide Crisis Syndrome is an exception; it too is not dependent on a person disclosing suicide ideation). An objective measure of brain connectivity could help medical professionals identify at-risk patients who would otherwise be overlooked.

Researchers also noted that their findings could influence future treatments for suicidality. “This could also lead to new treatments that target these brain regions and their underlying functions,” said Audreyana Jagger-Rickels, a Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine assistant professor of psychiatry and lead author on the paper.

The study findings highlight the importance of suicide assessment and prevention

More research needs to be done to investigate the role of connections in the brain in determining suicide risk. These findings, however, speak to a larger truth that is well-known in the suicide prevention community: suicide risk can be identified and treated with prompt, appropriate interventions.

When medical professionals fail to meet standards of care and patients die by suicide, our law firm works to hold them accountable. If you have lost a loved one to suicide completion, contact the Law Offices of Skip Simpson today for a free and confidential consultation. Our firm represents families nationwide.

The Link Between High Temperatures and Suicide

Woman in her car wipes sweat from her face during a heat wave.

Extreme heat affects mental as well as physical health.

As the summer of 2023 comes to a close, many people across the nation are still dealing with extreme heat. When you think of health risks associated with hot weather, you likely think of heatstroke, heat cramps, and other physical maladies. But research has consistently shown that heat also affects mental health, leading to an uptick in self-harm and suicide.

For instance, a 2018 study found that an increase of one degree Celsius in monthly average temperature led to a 1% increase in suicides in the United States and Mexico — an effect that was consistent in both hotter and cooler regions. Earlier this year, another study found that a one-degree increase in ambient temperature led to a measurable increase in depression and anxiety.

While more research is needed to fully understand the effects of extreme heat on the human brain, the broad takeaway is clear: heat is one of many environmental factors that increase the risk of suicide, and awareness of those factors is a key part of suicide prevention.

How and why extreme temperatures affect suicide risk

Although the link between heat and mental health is not entirely understood, research has indicated that increased temperatures may affect the neurotransmitter environment in the brain (that is, the chemicals that transmit messages to and from the brain), which in turn can affect mood and cognitive functioning.

Heat waves and other dramatic swings in temperature can be particularly dangerous. “It’s not necessarily the hottest days of the year that are associated with the greatest number of suicides and suicide attempts,” Brown University professor Josh Wartzel told Time Magazine, “but actually when the temperature changes dramatically.”

In addition, suicidality can be a secondary consequence of other problems that are inflamed by extreme heat. Studies have shown that in very hot weather, hate speech, harassment, and aggressive behavior increase. There is a growing body of research that shows hot weather leads to significantly more assaults, sexual assaults, and other violent crimes. And it is well known that victims of those crimes are in turn at elevated risk of suicide.

In short, heat is not just a threat to physical health, but also mental health. When cities and towns wisely open “cooling centers” to protect their residents from the physical effects of extreme heat, they should also put plans in place to address mental health crises that can occur during heat waves.

Suicide prevention needs to take into account the weather and seasonality

As we’ve previously discussed, suicide risk, like many other health issues, rises and falls with the seasons. Also like many other health issues, suicidality is caused by a combination of individual and environmental factors. Healthcare professionals who treat people who are at risk of suicide need to take those factors into account when designing care plans, recommending additional services, and so on.

Suicide is preventable, and families who have lost loved ones deserve accountability and justice. If you have lost a loved one to death by suicide or an attempt with serious medical injuries, the team at The Law Offices of Skip Simpson would be honored to listen to your story and explain your options. We are based in Texas but serve families nationwide.

What is the QPR Suicide Prevention Method?

"Suicide Prevention" in red on a white piece of paper.

Prompt intervention can prevent suicide

Death by suicide is preventable.

People who are at risk of suicide display warning signs that can be observed and acted upon by those close to them. And with prompt intervention, the risk of suicide can be mitigated and a life saved, both in the short-term and long-term.

One of the most effective suicide prevention methods anyone can learn is called the QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) method. Full disclosure. Skip Simpson is honored to be on the faculty of the QPR Institute.

Understanding the QPR method

QPR is intended to be analogous to CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), the Heimlich maneuver, and other immediate interventions that anyone can learn to stop a medical emergency. The QPR method treats suicidality as an acute mental health emergency, just like cardiac arrest or choking is a physical health emergency. People with QPR training are equipped to:

  • Recognize the warning signs that someone may be at risk of suicide
  • Understand common myths and misconceptions about suicide
  • Ask questions to assess suicide risk
  • Offer hope to people who are at risk of suicide
  • Persuade people at risk of suicide to get help
  • Refer a person at risk of suicide to appropriate mental health resources

Much like CPR, the goal of QPR is to stop the immediate crisis until a professional with more advanced training can provide further care and treatment, up to and including inpatient care if necessary. It’s part of a “chain of survival” intended to increase the probability that a life-threatening crisis can be survived.

QPR Gatekeeper training through the QPR Institute can be completed in just one to two hours. More extensive training, mentioned below, is also available. The more members of the general public trained in QPR, the more likely it is that suicides can be prevented with immediate intervention from a family member, friend, or colleague.

Additional training is important for professionals who regularly encounter at-risk people

While suicide prevention training is important for anyone, it’s particularly important for workers in professions that regularly come in contact with people at risk of suicide, such as:

  • Educators
  • Lawyers and legal professionals
  • Law enforcement
  • Emergency responders
  • Foremen, supervisors, and team leaders
  • Parents
  • Ministers and religious leaders
  • Healthcare workers

Unfortunately, many healthcare professionals in particular are under-trained in suicide prevention. Medical professionals who are not specifically trained in mental health often do not know what to do when they encounter a patient who is at risk of suicide. A doctor’s or nurse’s responsibility to their patients includes referring them to appropriate resources or specialists when they encounter a problem that is outside their area of expertise. When they fail to meet that standard, the consequences can be tragic.

If you have lost a loved one to suicide, our law firm can help

The team at the Law Offices of Skip Simpson is dedicated to suicide prevention, and that includes holding medical professionals accountable when they fail to meet their responsibilities to patients who are at risk of dying by suicide. If you have lost a loved one to suicide completion, we would be honored to listen to your story and explain your legal options. Contact us today for a free, confidential consultation. We serve families throughout the United States.

New Study Sheds Light on Seasonal Changes in Suicide Risk

Depressed teen girl sits on a window sill and stares outside.

Researchers investigate the lag time between suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts

If you ask the average layperson what time of year has the most deaths by suicide, they would probably guess the winter months. But as mental health professionals and suicide prevention advocates have long known, that seemingly intuitive answer is actually false. Suicide peaks in the spring, with April, May, and June being the deadliest months in the United States and across the Northern Hemisphere.

What is not as well understood is why the spring months have so many deaths by suicide. However, a new study published in Translational Psychiatry has attempted to get to the root of this tendency. Researchers found that while suicidal thoughts do indeed peak in the winter (as many would guess), there is a lag period of several months between the peak of suicidal thoughts and the peak of suicide attempts.

Researchers from Harvard University, the University of Nottingham, and the University of Amsterdam reviewed responses from patients in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom who completed questionnaires and tasks about their moods and thoughts of suicide and self-harm over a period of six years. The study results revealed that explicit suicidal thoughts peaked in December and implicit thoughts of self-harm were at the highest level in February, months before actual suicide attempts reach their peak in the spring.

Study authors investigated the reasons for the lag between suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts

The reasons for this lag period are complex and still not perfectly understood, but the study authors noted that people who are deep in the throes of severe seasonal depression, while they may have thoughts of suicide, may not have the energy to actually plan and carry out a suicide attempt. As mood improves somewhat in the spring, many individuals enter a danger zone where suicidal thoughts are still present, but they also have enough energy to attempt suicide.

Dr. Brian O’Shea, the University of Nottingham professor who led the study, put it this way: “Our research shows that suicidal thoughts and mood are the worst in December and the best in June. Between these two points, there is a heightened risk of suicidal behaviour, and we feel this is occurring because the gradual improvements in their mood and energy may enable them to plan and engage in a suicide attempt.”

Researchers drew an analogy between this tendency and the well-known suicide risks in the first month after a patient starts taking antidepressants, as the medication brings the patient’s mood just high enough to enter that same danger zone — although they were quick to note that the seasonal effect is much weaker than the medication effect.

Researchers also speculated that increased engagement in outdoor activities during springtime may play a role. Again, outdoor activities, in general, are not a cause of suicidality, but when someone who is emerging from a difficult winter and already having thoughts of suicide sees others engaged in outdoor activities and perceives that they are much happier or more satisfied in life, this comparison may increase the risk of suicide.

Healthcare professionals need to take these tendencies into account when treating at-risk patients

The results of this study speak to a larger truth about suicide risk: just because someone appears to be getting better does not mean that they are out of danger. In fact, the period when someone first starts to get better may be precisely when the risk is highest. The study results also indicate that this dangerous period is finite, and if the person can be kept safe during that time, their risk of suicide can decrease. In short, death by suicide is not inevitable; it is preventable with the right interventions and safety protocols during the period of highest risk.

If you have lost a loved one to suicide completion, we would be honored to listen to your story and explain your family’s rights and options. The Law Offices of Skip Simpson is based in Texas but serves families throughout the United States. Give us a call or contact us online for a free, confidential consultation.