Professional News
New Group Makes Suicide Prevention Global Affair
Psychiatric News
Volume 41 Number 24 page 5-6

A new private, nonprofit organization, Suicide Prevention International (SPI), is working to increase collaboration among medical professionals to examine effective approaches to suicide prevention and to develop and fund suicide prevention projects in the United States and abroad.

Herbert Hendin, M.D., founded SPI earlier this year after spending 17 years as president, executive director, and then medical director of the Chicago-based American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. He is also a professor in New York Medical College's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

SPI is currently partnering with the World Health Organization (WHO) on a project called the International Strategies for Suicide Prevention. In addition to prevention strategies, the researchers and clinicians from 26 countries participating in the project will develop evaluation and implementation measures to gauge projects' effectiveness.

The organization held a workshop in Hong Kong in November to discuss reports on suicide-prevention initiatives prepared by work groups in 13 Asian countries and to develop the basis for demonstration projects and policies SPI plans to fund. A report on the workshop's findings is scheduled for publication in spring 2007.

Hendin told Psychiatric News that suicide rates vary demographically from one region to another and that it is important to recognize potential socioeconomic and cultural triggers.

For example, WHO has collected statistics indicating that young women in China and India are at a disproportionate risk for suicide because of socioeconomic and cultural pressures, such as rural poverty and forced marriages. In South Korea, the suicide rate among people over age 65 is estimated to have risen from between 200 percent to 500 percent over the past two decades. And in Europe, the suicide rate rises with age, is more closely correlated with depression than it is in Asia, and is four times higher among men than women.

Hendin noted that many countries do not provide assistance for people whose lives have been affected by suicide.

"Although the United States has several hundred groups that provide support for people who have lost loved ones to suicide, most Asian countries don't have such groups, nor do they have support from government agencies to address the issue," he said. "They rely on help from nongovernmental organizations, but little assessment is conducted to examine their effectiveness."

At WHO's request, SPI started the Support for Survivors of Suicide project. Psychiatrists and mental health professionals from Asia come to the United States to learn from their counterparts here how to develop and implement support programs for children and family members after a loved one's suicide.

SPI's Physician Depression and Suicide Prevention Project is one of its two U.S.-based projects. It is designed to encourage depressed physicians to seek treatment before they become impaired. In addition, SPI has drawn on more than a decade of findings from therapists of patients who killed themselves while in treatment and, through its Suicide Data Bank Project, has developed an Affective States Questionnaire to help identify patients who are at risk for suicide.

SPI receives support from major U.S. and European corporations that conduct business in Asia, Asian corporations, private foundations, and individual donors.

More information about SPI is posted at<www.SPI.org>.

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