Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Suicide Deaths, Calls to Hotlines Increased Dramatically Following Robin Williams' 2014 Suicide

Suicide deaths increased in the 30-day period following the suicide of Robin Williams on August 11, 2014, according to a report today in Psychiatric Services. In addition, the number of calls to the National Suicide Prevention Line (NSPL) nearly tripled during this time period, though the number that were answered dropped significantly.

"As a critical component of crisis mental health services in the United States, suicide prevention hotlines need to develop contingency plans to accommodate anticipated increases in demand, including for at least 2 days after a celebrity suicide,” wrote Rajeev Ramchand, Ph.D., senior vice president for research at the Cohen Veterans Network, and colleagues.

Using data from the National Center for Health Statistics, they compared U.S. daily suicides in the 30 days before and after August 11, 2014, as well as for the same periods in 2012 and 2013. Suicide deaths were between 113 and 117 a day for the 30 days before Williams' death but increased to 142 a day in the 30-day period beginning August 12. Approximately two-thirds of the additional suicide deaths involved a method similar to the one used by Williams.

The researchers also analyzed call volume data from the NSPL, a national network of crisis centers connected to a series of toll-free numbers. Finally, they analyzed data on daily visits to two Web sites: the Suicide Prevention Resource Center and Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.

In the week prior to Williams' death, the NSPL received 4,000 to 6,000 calls per day. That number increased to almost 13,000 calls on August 12, 2014, and decreased incrementally thereafter. But the number of those calls that were answered dropped from 71% in the 30-day period before August 11 to 57% on August 12.

Both websites also experienced dramatic increases in visits in the period after Williams' suicide compared with before.

“Research is needed to estimate the potential cost savings that investing in the NSPL and other crisis mental health services, and building surge capacity specifically, may have on reduced emergency department admissions, hospital readmissions, overuse of law enforcement, and the loss of human life,” the researchers said.

For related information see the Psychiatric News article, "Suicide Deaths Climb Dramatically in U.S., Nearly Double for Women."

(Image: asiseeit/istock.com)


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