Talk therapy is a simple but powerful way to stop people at high risk of suicide from harming themselves, according to new research. In a study published in the Lancet Psychiatry journal, researchers who tracked tens of thousands of Danes over an 18-year period found that suicides were down 26% over a five-year period among people who had attempted suicide and received talking therapy sessions at a suicide prevention clinic, compared to those sent home with no treatment, the BBC reports. In the first year, those who received talk therapy were not only 27% less likely to attempt suicide again, they were 38% less likely to die of any cause—and the positive effects could still be seen more than a decade later.
The researchers say the study is the first solid evidence "that psychosocial treatment—which provides support, not medication—is able to prevent suicide in a group at high risk of dying by suicide." A study co-author tells Bloomberg that even though previous studies showed that one in six people who survive a suicide attempt go on to harm themselves again within a year, many suicide survivors who don't require hospitalization for a mental illness are simply sent home without being referred to a counselor. The researchers, who say the study reinforces the fact that it's "very important to offer support for people who have attempted suicide," plan follow-up studies to determine which kinds of therapy work best. (A World Health Organization study this year found that with a death every 40 seconds, suicide "kills more than conflicts, wars, and natural catastrophes.")