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    A new study from Columbia University sheds more light on what suicide prevention strategies in the US seem to work the best.  The study looked at over 20,000 articles published on the topic between 2005 and 2019. The study’s authors wanted to learn what interventions worked best and what are most scalable to reach the most people in the most economical ways.

    Suicide is a growing concern

    Learning what works best to prevent suicide is important because of the high frequency of death by suicide in the US and the tragic personal as well as business impact of such deaths. Here are some sobering facts.  Someone in the US dies by suicide about every 11 minutes. That number includes 22 military veterans every day. That’s over 47,000 Americans per year. Odds are good that you know someone who has been a victim of suicide. About 50% of people in the US say they personally know someone who died of suicide – a parent, sibling, relative, friend or co-worker. Twice as many Americans die by suicide than homicide; four times more than those killed by impaired drivers.

    Someone in the US dies by suicide every 11 minutes.


    The rate of deaths from suicide has jumped dramatically in this century, rising from about 10.5 deaths per 100,000 in 1999 to 14 per 100,000 today. It is even higher among some occupations. Law enforcement, physicians (on average, one doctor a day kills him or herself), farmers, college students, and professional drivers are especially at risk. It’s the 10th leading cause of death overall and the second leading cause of death among young people. The CDC found that 1 in 4 young people had contemplated suicide this past summer as the effects of social isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic set in. (See our blog: College Students – A Vulnerable Population for Suicide and Mental Health Issues.)

    Suicide screenings work

    The Columbia researchers found some encouraging but not surprising news. Screenings work. Particularly when conducted at key moments in people’s lives.  Like visiting your family doctor.  The researchers found that when trained on suicide awareness and brief screening techniques, primary care physicians can play an important role in identifying and assisting suicidal people. This is a very economical and scalable intervention. They also found that educating youth- a particularly vulnerable population- is effective. So is active follow-up and engagement in treatment for those patients’ whose conditions have been so severe as to require inpatient hospitalization. Such follow-up is good clinical practice. They found that restrictions on the most lethal means of suicide- firearms- is also effective, but a politically charged topic. The study also found that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is effective in preventing suicide. This modern evidence-based therapy helps patients with a range of problems and has been shown to improve quality of life.  It’s based on the principle that faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking lead to distressing emotions and ineffective behaviors that deter us from achieving our potential. It’s also very scalable.

    Proven and scalable suicide prevention solutions

    We have been very interested in developing solutions that are based on proven and scalable interventions at Espyr.   We’re particularly interested in interventions that incorporate CBT.   One such solution is TESS.  TESS is an Artificial Intelligence (AI) assisted chatbot that we offer to give people an alternative and private means to access CBT based therapy.  TESS can be particularly effective in addressing the current and pervasive social isolation.

    More directly addressing suicide awareness and prevention, Espyr also partners with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention ( to offer the anonymous and confidential Interactive Screening Program that connects participants at risk directly to Espyr Counselors.  Yet another such screening service Espyr offers is Realyze®, a mental health product that connects participants to Espyr Guides to help them access their employers’ and communities’ wellbeing services while also helping them navigate personal barriers that may be keeping them from seeking out help.

    With the COVID pandemic continuing its grip on the country, right now would be a good time for employers to examine how well their services that screen their employees for suicide risk, depression or general wellbeing are working.

    About the Author

    Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

    About Espyr

    For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change.  For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.


    Tag(s): Suicide

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