Suicide Attempts On Rise, But Help is Hard to Get

Only 40% of people who need mental health services report being able to access them

The rate of suicidal behavior among Americans increased from 2008 to 2019, but usage of mental health services didn’t budge, reports a team led by UConn Health. The results, reported in the January 19 issue of JAMA Psychiatry, show that people need help to overcome existing barriers to care.

Suicide overall is still rare, but the rate of people attempting it in the US increased from 2008 to 2019, despite an improving economy during that period. A team of researchers including UConn Health School of Medicine psychiatric epidemiologist Greg Rhee looked at data from a survey done by the National Institutes of Health and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of 484,732 people across the US.

The survey found rates of attempted suicide rose by 1.8 times from 2008 to 2019 in young people aged 18-25. It also rose among people struggling with substance abuse. Suicide attempts are the single most important risk factor for suicide; the rate of suicide is 100 times greater among people who’ve already made the attempt in the past year compared to the general population. Getting people mental health services soon after a suicide attempt is one of the most effective ways to help them.

The survey also asked respondents if there was a time in the last 12 months when they needed mental health services but did not receive them, and if so, why.

Analyzing the results, the researchers found a significance increase in the number of people who said they did not know where to go for treatment. There was also an increase in people who knew where to go but could not get there due to lack of transportation or simply because it was too far away. Overall, only 40% of people who needed mental health services were able to access them, and lack of access was particularly common among the young.

“Young adults have more mental and psychosocial problems, but they rarely get mental health services. We should target this population to understand how to get them the services they need,” Rhee says.

The study was supported through grants from the National Institute on Aging, the National Institutes of Mental Health, and UConn’s Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention and Policy.

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