Handwritten letter may help check suicides: Study

Handwritten letter may help check suicides: Study

Letter writing is now almost considered a thing of the past. But in this age of electronic communication, can handwritten letters be medically helpful? Some experts at a Swiss university do feel it has medical value. A study by researchers at the University of Bern has revealed that receiving handwritten letters could prevent chance of suicide.

Suicide has become a major problem not only in the United States but across the world. The study highlights that around 800,000 people commit suicide every year across the world. In the U.S., there is one suicidal death every 12 minutes. A previous suicide attempt can be the main risk factor for repeated attempts. Around 15-25 percent people who attempt suicide, make another attempt and nearly 5-10 percent succumb to these attempts.

The analysis, published in the journal PLOS Medicine in March 2016, tried to evaluate the effectiveness of a pilot study of a suicide prevention method, called the Attempted Suicide Short Intervention Program (ASSIP), to decrease suicidal tendencies.

Attempted Suicide Short Intervention Program

As per the study, “ASSIP is a novel brief therapy based on a patient-centered model of suicidal behavior, with an emphasis on early therapeutic alliance.” The program comprises three therapy sessions that start shortly after the suicide attempt with regular follow-up for two years through sending personalized handwritten letters.

The researchers wanted the therapy to be brief so that treatment specialists can cater to the large number of patients admitted to emergency departments due to suicide attempts. The therapy emphasized on building an early alliance that would anchor a long-term outreach therapy through regular handwritten letters. It followed a detailed script outlined by the researchers that have been transformed into a manual containing systematic explanation of the kind of handouts, checklists, standardized letters that can be used by a professional in various settings.

The researchers carried out a randomized clinical trial on 120 patients admitted to the emergency department of the Bern University General Hospital for attempted suicide. The patients were divided into two groups: one group received the standard therapies along with ASSIP and the other received only the standard treatment of therapy.

The group that received the ASSIP therapy was given three therapy sessions. The first session involved the patient talking about the reasons for the suicide attempt that was videotaped. The second session involved the patient and the therapist reviewing the bits and parts of the video and analyzing the reasons that led to the suicidal action. During the final session, the therapist and the patient develop a list of long-term goals, warning signs, and safety strategies for using at the time of emotional crisis.

After the three therapeutic sessions, the patients were sent letters by the therapists every three months in the first year and every six months in the second year. They received a total of six handwritten letters during the two-year therapy.

A striking difference was found between the two groups. During the two years of follow-up, there was one suicidal death in both the groups. Moreover, there were five repeat suicide attempts in the ASSIP group and 41 repeat suicide attempts in the controlled group. It was found that there was approximately 80 percent reduction in the repeat suicidal rates within members of the ASSIP group. In addition, these participants also spent 72 percent fewer days in the hospital during follow-up.

Researcher Konrad Michel told The Washington Post, “We believe the caring letters gave patients a feeling that they were cared about and added a personal touch.”

The researchers are of the view that ASSIP can be a promising therapy in reducing suicide attempts, as it helps people cope with crisis. However, they also refer that testing the therapy in a larger setting can answer irrefutably if it can reduce repeated suicide attempts, prevent suicidal deaths, and reduce healthcare costs.

According to a report in The Washington Post, the therapy is getting popular in different countries. The Finnish Association for Mental Health is already expanding the study by carrying out a randomized trial based on ASSIP. In addition to this, the U.S. Veterans Administration Medical Center at Canandaigua, New York, is also exploring the viability of ASSIP for integrating it in its suicide prevention programs.

Managing suicidal tendency

If you or your loved one is having suicidal tendencies or has attempted it before, please seek medical help. The Sovereign Health Group provides holistic treatments for various mental health disorders as well as any underlying health condition. You can call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-954-0529 or chat online with one of our representatives available to answer your queries on mental health problems.

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