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New study: Will Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Help Prevent Suicide?

September 26, 2019

Hospitals provide a safe, if temporary, haven for people who have attempted suicide. Once they are released, however, the risk they will try to kill themselves again remains quite high.

A newly-funded study at the Institute of Living in Hartford, part of the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network, will investigate whether introducing a form of brief cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in the hospital decreases the chance people will attempt suicide again in the six months after discharge.

“Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death for adults in the United States, and the period of time after hospital discharge is particularly challenging for many people,” said David Tolin, director of the IOL’s Anxiety Disorders Center and principal investigator on the study, “Inpatient Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy to Reduce Suicide Risk Post-Discharge.” “They find themselves without many of the safety nets the hospital provides.”

The study, which begins recruitment Jan. 1, recently earned a $1,049,024 grant from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The award was part of $6.2 million in grants the Foundation announced for 26 projects across the world focused on expanding knowledge of suicide and how to prevent it.

In using CBT for suicide prevention, the IOL project addresses a new premise that has not been tested in hospitalized patients who have attempted suicide, according to Dr. Tolin.

“CBT is a psychotherapy approach in which therapists help people modify dysfunctional emotions, behaviors and thoughts,” he said. “In patients who have attempted suicide, we believe this can be extremely helpful.”

As part of the study, a therapist will be hired to administer CBT to patients hospitalized at the IOL over the next five years. The results will be compared with the experience of other patients who will continue to receive standard treatment. The existing approach to care, Dr. Tolin said, contains other interventions aimed at reducing suicide risk but not individual CBT.

“In the CBT portion of the study, participants will receive four sessions of individual therapy that will be aimed at improving their coping strategies, identifying reasons for living and restricting means of suicide,” he said.

The study team will follow up with all participants six months after they are discharged from the hospital to see how well the added intervention helped.

For more information about cognitive behavioral therapy at the Institute of Living, click here.