In recognition of World Suicide Prevention Day, pharmacy technicians should consider staying up-to-date on the latest research on suicide risk factors and prevention strategies.
To many, National Suicide Prevention Week is a somber reminder of the nearly 40,000 individuals who lose their battle against suicidal thoughts each year in the United States. However, the campaign also provides an opportunity to learn more about how to prevent these tragic deaths.
Given their frequent interactions with patients and access to medical records, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians may have a particularly important role to play in suicide prevention, according to Pharmacists Preventing Suicide founder and president C. Patrick Tharp, PhD.
For example, pharmacists and technicians can encourage patients who suggest or divulge thoughts of suicide or self-harm to immediately discuss these thoughts with their primary care or mental health provider, Dr. Tharp previously explained. The patient’s other health care providers should then be contacted to ensure that the patient receives the necessary treatment and help, just as they would be for another critical illness.
Additionally, technicians can refer patients experiencing suicidal thoughts, as well as those concerned that a patient, friend, or loved one may be suicidal, to resources such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s 24-hour hotline (1-800-273-8255), which will connect patients to a trained counselor at a local crisis center.
Finally, Dr. Tharp emphasized that pharmacists and technicians should remain encouraging and empathetic when speaking with a potentially suicidal patient, listening attentively, and assuring the patient that their thought will pass and their situation will improve.
In recognition of World Suicide Prevention Day tomorrow, pharmacy technicians should consider staying up-to-date on the latest research on suicide risk factors and prevention strategies, including:
1. Infection Hospitalization Linked to Suicide Risk
Patients who are hospitalized with infection may face an elevated risk of suicide, according to a recent study.
The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, examined data on more than 7.2 million Danish individuals, 809,384 of whom had been hospitalized for infection. The research team found that 32,683 of all participants had taken their own life, and that 7892 (24.1%) of these patients had been diagnosed with infection during their hospitalization.
Based on these findings, the researcher determined that patients who were hospitalized with infection had a 42% higher risk of suicide death than those who were not infected, with this risk increasing alongside the number of infections and length of treatment. Additionally, patients with hepatitis and HIV were found to have a particularly high suicide risk compared with other hospitalized patients.
“Our findings indicate that infections may have a relevant role in the pathophysiological mechanisms of suicidal behavior,” the study authors wrote. “Provided that the association between infection and the risk of death by suicide was causal, identification and early treatment of infections could be explored as a public health measure for prevention of suicide.”
The study authors acknowledged that their findings do not establish causality, noting that further research is needed to understand if and how infection influence suicide risk.
2. OCD Patients At at High Risk of Suicide
Although the risk of suicide among patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is often considered low, a recent study indicates that this population faces a far greater suicide risk than previously thought.
The study, published in Molecular Psychiatry, analyzed data on 36,788 Swedish patients, among whom there were 4297 suicide attempts and suicide death.
The researchers determined that patients with OCD were 10 times more likely commit suicide than the general population, as well as 5 times more likely to attempt it.
Although this risk was slightly reduced after adjusting for other psychiatric disorders, the increased suicide risk associated with OCD remained statistically significant, even in the absence of other psychiatric conditions.
The study authors encouraged health care professionals to closely monitor patients with OCD, especially those who have made previous attempts on their life.
3. Suicide Rate Remains High Among Transgender Youth
The findings of a recent study have reaffirmed that transgender children, teens, and young adults face a significantly high risk of suicide and self-harm compared with their peers.
The study, published in Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, analyzed data on 96 transgender patients aged 12 to 22 years. Of the participants, 58% received at least one psychiatric diagnosis in addition to gender dysphoria (distress over one’s gender identity), while 63% reported a history of bullying.
Alarmingly, nearly 30% of the participants reported at least 1 suicide attempt, and about 42% reported self-harming behavior such as cutting. The risk of a suicide attempt was particularly high among transgender patients who were dissatisfied with their weight. Additionally, patients who were transiting from male to female were more likely to attempt suicide or self-harm than those who were transitioning from female to male.
“Our study provides further evidence for the at-risk nature of transgender youth and emphasizes that mental health providers and physicians working with this population need to be aware of these challenges,” said author Claire Peterson, PhD, in a press release.
Bryan Bishop, PharmD, BCPS, previously told Pharmacy Times that health care professionals, including pharmacists and technicians, should remain cognizant of the increased health risks faced by transgender patients and educate themselves on the best ways to help this population.
4. Older Patients Less Likely to Be Screened for Suicidal Thoughts
Although it’s important for all patients to be screened for suicidal thoughts, a recent study suggests that health care professionals utilize these tests less frequently on older patients.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, analyzed patient charts from 8 different emergency departments. The researchers found that only 68% of patients aged 85 years or older were screened for thoughts of suicide or self-harm, compared with 81% of younger patients. However, the researchers also found that suicidal thoughts or attempts also declined with age, with only 1.2% of patients aged 75 years and older reporting such behavior, compared with 9% of younger patients.
“It is unclear whether our findings are from a bias in care or from older patients being less able to answer questions because of conditions like dementia,” said lead author Marian Betz, MD, in a press release. “Additional research and program development could hopefully help providers better identify older adults at risk of suicide.”