Trying to speak to someone who’s spoken about committing suicide might be among the most difficult situations to approach. Assuming mental clarity, there’s usually nothing we can say that will ease the mind of someone who’s depressed, lost in their deeply tragic emotions, that will bring them to realize death isn’t the way to find peace. Realistically, it’s not feasible to prevent everyone from attempting suicide; some of them will end their lives, and some won’t. Among that latter group, some will even fail. It’s this group a new study finds need the most help, and talk therapy may be the answer.

“We know that people who have attempted suicide are a high-risk population and that we need to help them,” said study leader Annette Erlangsen, an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Mental Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in a press release. “Now we have evidence that psychosocial treatment — which provides support, not medication — is able to prevent suicide in a group at high risk of dying by suicide.”

It’s pretty obvious how a failed suicide attempt can affect a person whose psyche — and now their body — is already battered. Falling deeper into a depressive state, these people have a 30 percent higher risk of attempting it again. A 2006 study also found that, with regards to their mental condition, they were also more likely to score higher on measures of sensation seeking, depression, interpersonal dependency, and the inability to describe the their emotions — alexithymia.

Researchers looked at health data on over 65,000 Danish people who had attempted suicide between 1992 and 2010. Of these people, they looked at about 5,700 who had visited a suicide prevention clinic for talk therapy, and compared their outcomes over a 20-year follow-up period to those of 17,300 people who had not visited one of the eight clinics.

They found that talk therapy was really effective in reducing the risk of a repeated attempt, saving 27 percent of the patients’ lives within the first year, and reducing their risk of death from any cause by 38 percent. After five years, they were 26 percent less likely to have another go at suicide, and by 10 years, only 2.3 percent of patients who’d undergone talk therapy had committed suicide — a welcome finding, when compared to the 3.1 percent who committed suicide within the same time frame after not undergoing treatment.

Suicide rates in the U.S. have been climbing since 2000, when they were at their lowest since 1980, at 10.4 deaths per 100,000 people. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest data, from 2012, those rates now stand at 12.5 per 100,000 people. Although our teenage years are fraught with emotional instability, people of any age commit suicide, and those aged 25 to 44 and 85 and up have been most at risk since at least 2004.

The researchers said it wasn’t clear exactly what helped the at-risk individuals in their study, but said that talk therapy nonetheless, is a good form of treatment for those who may attempt suicide. If you, or someone you know, is considering suicide, don't hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). There is always a way to find inner peace. 

Source: Erlangsen A, Dam Lind B, Stuart E, Qin P, et al. Short and long term effects of psychosocial therapy provided to persons after deliberate self-harm: a register-based, nationwide multicentre study using propensity score matching. Lancet Psychiatry. 2014.