A 16-year-old boy, a high-school athlete with good grades, told his therapist that he was thinking about taking his own life. That therapist, Dennis Kolsch, got him admitted to an inpatient ward. “He didn’t have a great experience in there, but he was safe,” says Kolsch, a licensed mental-health counselor in Cocoa Beach, Florida. “The family felt comforted knowing that.”
eens leaving an inpatient program like this one will have discharge instructions on how to continue care, which usually include medications and psychotherapy. The boy was discharged to Kolsch’s care, but Kolsch knew that weekly or biweekly therapy sessions were not enough. So he worked on getting the boy into an intensive outpatient program.
In the meantime, his parents were frantic. They didn’t want to let their son out of their sight, and felt they had to re-create the hyper-controlled structure of the hospital setting. It was all-consuming and exhausting. Further, the constant supervision was not helpful for the parent-child dynamic, which had been bumpy before the hospitalization and was now ramping up again. “The mom’s becoming overbearing and the son is withdrawing,” Kolsch says. “And then the mom gets worried because the son is withdrawing.”
“We know that transition out of inpatient care is a particularly high-risk time period for suicide and subsequent suicide attempts,” says Michele Berk, a clinical researcher at Stanford University.
All of this suggests that where hospitalization provides effective crisis management in such situations, keeping young people safe back at home is a challenge that modern medicine has so far failed to solve. But a group of researchers at the University of Michigan has been working with a simple yet powerful tool that just might help: recruiting three or four familiar adults—not just the young person’s parents—who pledge ongoing support through recovery. The Michigan program trains both family and friends to become dedicated helpers and empathetic listeners—and to encourage their struggling charges to stick to the treatment plan.
The program is unique in both its approach and its results. The intervention is entirely focused on the adult volunteers, not on the child. (The teen’s only role is naming trusted adults.) And in a recent paper by the psychologist Cheryl King and her colleagues reporting a decade-long follow-up of teens in the program, those who received the attention of trained adults in their life were nearly seven times less likely to die than teens who received only standard care. The study was one of the largest suicide-intervention studies ever done, and it is the first clinical trial for suicide prevention in high-risk teens that found a change in death rates.
Read the full article at The Atlantic.