According to new research in the Lancet Psychiatry, even short-term psychotherapy can offer long-term benefits for those at higher risk of suicide. For up to two decades, the new study followed people who’d attempted suicide once, and found their risk of future suicide declined by more than 25% if they’d received just six to 10 sessions of psychotherapy. Considering that people who have attempted suicide once are significantly more likely to contemplate it again, talk therapy – especially over an extended period of time – may hold a lot of promise for those in the most extreme form of mental pain.
The team from Johns Hopkins University looked at data from over 65,000 Danish people who had attempted suicide between 1992 and 2010. Over the last 20 years, Denmark has opened suicide prevention centers across the country, and the country offers universal healthcare to its citizens. Of the study sample, over 5,600 people received six to 10 sessions of talk therapy directly after the suicide attempt. The researchers compared these individuals to 17,000 participants who did not receive therapy after their suicide attempts.
The participants who’d taken part in talk therapy were 27% less likely to commit suicide again in the first year than people who didn’t have therapy—they were also 38% less likely to die of any cause. The difference was still the same after five years of follow-up, and even remained after 10.
This new study offers a lot of hope, suggesting that individual psychotherapy can confer a decades-long benefit to people who have contemplated suicide in the past, and may contemplate it again in the future. The findings provide a solid basis for recommending that this type of therapy be considered for populations at risk. Participants benefited from just six to 10 sessions of talk therapy in the current study. Imagine what treatment over the long term might do.