As the national debate on mental health continues after the suicides of fashion designer Kate Spade and television host and chef Anthony Bourdain earlier this month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced the adoption of a cutting-edge program for those struggling with a history of suicide attempts.
Rates of death by suicide have been rising in nearly every state, according to the Centers for Disease Control, but the risk factors widely vary, from job loss to relationship stress. A host of risk factors such as depression or social isolation impact New York’s suicide rate. In New York City alone, suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds.
The Attempted Suicide Short Intervention Program, initially developed in Switzerland in 2013 at Bern University, is the first of its kind to be introduced in the United States. Made possible by a grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association, the program has already found success in Finland, Sweden, and Lithuania. The initial study was promising: It reduced suicidal behavior by 80 percent and hospitalizations by 72 percent.
ASSIP involves three sessions. In the first meeting, the patient is recorded on video telling what researchers call the “narrative,” or the details of the patient’s suicide attempt and any relevant mental health history; the second involves the patient and doctor watching and discussing the recording and filling in gaps as needed; the third produces an individualized treatment plan with coping strategies. Following the last meeting, the doctor sends the patient a personalized handwritten letter every three months for a year, and one letter every six months in the second year. The letters strengthen the patient-doctor relationship and may reduce future suicide risk: In the two-year follow-up to the study, the group receiving letters made only five suicide attempts, compared to the control group, which made 41.
As one of three recipients of SAMHSA’s…