Suicide Is a Year-Round Problem with Seasonal Peaks in Spring — Awareness Can Save Lives

Studies have suggested that there is a seasonal peak in suicide occurrence during the months of April and May. Although spring is generally associated with renewal and rebirth, it can also be a difficult time for those suffering from mental health issues including major depression.

Offering timely care and support to those most in need of help is critical. Physicians can provide their patients with information on the subject through an article released by the Pennsylvania Health News Service Project (PHNS), a collaboration between 20 Pennsylvania-based medical and specialty associations and societies. PHNS was created to raise awareness and provide education for public health issues affecting Pennsylvanians.

“As a friend or significant person of choice, if you suspect a loved one is showing signs of emotional instability, it’s important to create a safe environment and to connect them with the help they need,” said Robert E. Wilson, MD, PhD, president-elect of the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society (PaPS) and active PAMED member, in the release.

Dr. Wilson highlighted the following risk factors that may help clinicians, friends, and family members to understand when someone may be in distress:

  • Previous suicide attempts
  • History of depression or other mental illness
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Family history of suicide or violence
  • Physical illness
  • Feeling alone
  • Stressful life event or loss
  • Easy access to lethal methods

Recent Advocacy Efforts Could Aid in Suicide Prevention
Many organizations in the state — including PAMED and PaPS — have been working to advocate to improve programs for those with mental health problems.

One measure that may help to alleviate the issue is a voluntary shared bed tracking system for behavioral health and detoxification. In October 2013, Pennsylvania physicians voted at the Pennsylvania Medical Society’s (PAMED) annual House of Delegates Meeting to endorse the development of just such a tracking system.

A National Report Card on Emergency Care released on Jan. 16, 2014, by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) further justified the concerns of PAMED physicians. ACEP recommended that Pennsylvania adopt a statewide psychiatric bed registry.

In June 2014, a new law was passed which will require schools to adopt a youth suicide awareness and prevention policy beginning with the 2015-16 academic year. This legislation was passed with the help of the Pennsylvania Youth Suicide Prevention Initiative (PAYPSI), mental health consumer groups, and other public health advocates.

“Everyone – physicians, teachers, clergy, and all members of the public – plays a role in preventing the unnecessary loss of life through self-infliction,” said Karen Rizzo, MD, FACS, president of PAMED.

Resources from PAMED
The statistics are staggering: 50 percent of physician surveyed have experienced burnout. More than 400 physicians commit suicide each year — about the size of an entire medical school class.
PAMED has developed several tools to address resilience and physician burnout:

  • “Physician Burnout: Resolution and Restoration” CME webinar
  • “Physician Resilience”–two-part CME webinar
  • “Strategies for Addressing Physician Burnout” video
  • “Alleviating Physician Burnout” CME activity

Additionally, the Foundation of the Pennsylvania Medical Society offers a Physicians Health Program (PHP) which assists physicians, physician assistants, and dental professionals in Pennsylvania with confidential, reliable monitoring services for individuals who may be experiencing addiction, physical or mental challenges, or work-related stress.

Other Resources