For suicide, hospitalisation may harm just as much as it helps

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A new study found that hospitalization for suicide harmed about as many people as it helped. However, if done immediately after a suicide attempt, hospitalization might be somewhat more helpful.

On average, the researchers found that being hospitalized did not reduce a person’s risk of fatal or nonfatal suicide attempts (SA) in the next year. However, this was because hospitalization actually increased the risk of SA in about a quarter of those who experienced it (reduced risk of SA in 28.1%, but increased risk in 24%).

The researchers then separated the participants into two groups: those who were hospitalized immediately (within 24 hours) after an SA, and those who were hospitalized within a week of an SA.

They found that, on average, hospitalization didn’t help if the SA was over a day ago. However, if the SA had just happened, hospitalization was associated with a slight decrease in the likelihood of further attempts (a reduction of 7.5%).

Those who had suicidal thoughts (SI) but not an actual attempt also experienced no benefit from hospitalization, even if they were hospitalized immediately after having these thoughts.

“The findings of this study suggest that psychiatric hospitalization is associated with reduced average SA risk in the immediate aftermath of an SA but not after other recent SAs or SI only,” the researchers write.

Thus, they suggest that hospitalization is only justified for patients who have just made a suicide attempt. For patients who have suicidal thoughts or who made an attempt several days ago, hospitalization is just as likely to harm as it is to help.

The study was conducted by Harvard researcher Ronald C. Kessler and published in JAMA Psychiatry.

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