Federal mental health chief calls rising suicide rate “unacceptable”

May 08, 2015

News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark News


In a recent interview, National Institute of Mental Health Director Tom Insel reflected on the United States’ still-rising suicide rate, and on the field of suicide prevention research. In order for suicide prevention to be as effective as national efforts to reduce traffic deaths and homicides, he said, greater accountability is required. In particular, he noted that restricting access to lethal means has already been well established by research as an effective suicide prevention strategy, but is not yet the basis for national policies. By contrast, Dr. Insel emphasized that there are areas where our understanding is still lacking, including a need to learn more about the risk for suicide mortality, as distinct from the risk of making a suicide attempt. Research into biological markers for suicide risk, and greater understanding of how best to protect people at high risk from lethal outcomes, are key areas in which he said he hopes research can expand. “I think one of the most hopeful signs,” Dr. Insel said, “is that for the first time, scientists are beginning to see suicide as the target itself.” He noted that new therapies and medications that specifically reduce suicide risk are “incredibly exciting,” although further study is needed before they are more widely promoted.

Spark Extra! U.S. National Suicide Prevention Research Efforts reviews the current distribution of research funding in the field.