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Hotlines Aren’t Enough to Help People at Risk of Suicide

By CARA ANGELOTTA MDCara Angelotta, suicide prevention, health policy

Contrary to popular belief, the risk of suicide does not increase around the holidays. But, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, annual suicide rates in the U.S. have risen nearly 30 percent since 1999.

Much of the media coverage following the high-profile suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain has followed recommended best practices to reduce risk of suicide contagion or “copycat” suicides by including warning signs a person may be at risk of suicide due to depression and contact information for the national hotline for suicide prevention. This overly simplistic approach implies that we can prevent all suicides by reaching out to loved ones in emotional distress and advertising the existence of mental health treatment.

As a psychiatrist who treats individuals hospitalized for acute suicide risk, I am concerned that much of the media coverage has belied the complexity of suicide. While we do not yet fully understand why suicide rates are rising, we do know that suicide is a complex public health problem that will require a multifaceted approach to reduce deaths. Increased awareness of depression as a treatable medical illness is an important but insufficient response to the suicide epidemic.

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