Family intervention reduces long-term suicide risk in young people

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By the National Institute of Mental Health

BETHESDA, Md. — Over the past 20 years, suicide rates have risen 24 percent in the United States, with the largest increases occurring among women ages 10 to 14 and African-American children ages 5 at the age of 11. These statistics highlight the critical need for better ways to understand and prevent youth and adolescent suicide. In a recent study supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, researchers examined the impact of a family intervention on suicide risk in young people and found risk reduction benefits of up to 10 years later.

Genetic, neurobiological, cognitive, and social factors contribute to the risk of self-harming thoughts or behaviors. Research also suggests that family factors play an important role in the development of self-harming thoughts and behaviors during adolescence. Evidence shows that interventions focused on improving family processes, such as improving conflict resolution and encouraging supportive parenting strategies, can reduce long-term suicide risk in young people, even if the intervention does not specifically target suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

In the study, led by Arin M. Connell, Ph.D., of Case Western Reserve University, researchers examined the impact of a family intervention called the Family Check-Up (FCU) program on the risk long-term suicide. The FCU program was originally designed to prevent the development of substance use and conduct problems in young people by improving positive parenting support, problem solving and communication skills. The researchers reviewed data from three randomized controlled trials that investigated the impact of the FCU program:

The Early Steps Prevention trial: This trial followed 731 mother-child dyads from age two to age 16.
The Project Alliance 1 trial: This trial followed 998 adolescents and their families from ages 11 to 28.
The Project Alliance 2 trial: This trial followed 593 adolescents and their families from age 11 to age 23.
In total, the researchers analyzed data from 2,322 families who had participated in the FCU program.

Families were randomly assigned to receive the FCU intervention or to a control group that received no intervention. Families participating in the intervention completed a 3-session assessment that used motivational interviewing techniques to learn more about each family. Parents then participated in a feedback session where they received information to help them engage in positive parenting practices. Parents also had the opportunity to participate in additional treatment sessions tailored to each family’s skill needs and focused on topics such as effective family management, self-care, family problem solving and other challenges facing the family. family faced.

In each of the three studies, researchers used slightly different questionnaires to assess adolescents for factors such as depression and suicidal thoughts and actions. The researchers used a data matching technique that allowed them to adjust for these differences and create a value for these factors that were comparable across the three studies.

The researchers found that adolescents in the FCU program had a significantly lower risk of suicide than adolescents in the control group in each year after leaving, which lasted up to 9 years after the start of the intervention. These effects did not differ by race, ethnicity, or gender, suggesting that the FCU program was equally effective in reducing suicide risk in diverse youth populations.

The researchers note that parents in the FCU program were offered treatment sessions on multiple occasions, suggesting that the impact of FCU on suicidal thoughts and behaviors may have been enhanced by the continued availability of services. Additionally, the study looked at a wide age range, and factors affecting suicide risk may differ between young children and older adolescents. The research suggests future studies examining prevention targets in older and younger youth and the mechanisms by which FCU works are needed.

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