Article 22.05.2020

Measures to reduce suicide risk should focus on wider population

A study with researchers at CPFT and the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration East of England has highlighted suicide risk in larger groups of young people with mild or moderate mental distress.

The findings published in BMJ Open for Mental Health Awareness Week indicate that approaches to reduce suicide risk in young people need to focus on the whole population, not just those with severe distress, depression or anxiety.

CPFT non-executive director and NIHR ARC East of England director Professor Peter Jones is the lead senior author of the study, working with colleagues from Cambridge University and University College London. It was supported by the Wellcome Trust and the National Institute for Health Research.

Peter said: “Around 70% of young people who report self-harming or suicidal thoughts are within normal or non-clinical range of mental distress. These findings have major implications for young people’s mental health, and are noteworthy for being replicated in the two independent samples. They show that public policy should support better mental health for all young people, not only those who are most unwell. Even modest improvements in the mental health and wellbeing of all young people may prevent more suicides than targeting only those who are severely depressed and anxious.”

“It is well known that for many physical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, small improvements in the risks of the overall population translate into more lives saved, rather than focusing only on those at extremely high risk. This is called the ‘prevention paradox’, and we believe our study is the first evidence that mental health could be viewed in the same way. We need both a public health and a clinical approach to suicide risk.”  

“This is particularly important as the widespread effects of the Covid-19 pandemic unfold. We need a two-pronged response, with accessible, effective services for young people with mental disorders, and population-wide, universal prevention approaches to support the mental health and wellbeing of all young people.”

For more information read the full article online.

Polek E, Neufeld SAS, Wilkinson P, Goodyer I, St Clair M, Prabhu G, Dolan RJ, Bullmore ET, Fonagy P, Stochl J, Jones PB. How do the prevalence and relative risk of non-suicidal self-injury and suicidal thoughts vary across the population distribution of common mental distress (the p factor)? Observational analyses replicated in two independent UK cohorts of young people. BMJ Open 2020;10:e032494. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2019-032494