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The European Psychiatric Association (EPA) guidance on suicide treatment and prevention

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 April 2020

D. Wasserman*
The National Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention of Mental Ill-Health (NASP), Karolinska Institutet, S-171 77, Stockholm, Sweden
Z. Rihmer
Department of Clinical and Theoretical Mental Health and Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Semmelweis University, Faculty of Medicine, Budapest, Hungary
D. Rujescu
Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich, Germany
M. Sarchiapone
Department of Health Sciences, University of Molise, Campobasso, Italy
M. Sokolowski
The National Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention of Mental Ill-Health (NASP), Karolinska Institutet, S-171 77, Stockholm, Sweden
D. Titelman
The National Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention of Mental Ill-Health (NASP), Karolinska Institutet, S-171 77, Stockholm, Sweden
G. Zalsman
Geha Mental Health Centre, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel Division of Molecular Imaging and Neuropathology, Psychiatry Department, Columbia University, New York, USA
Z. Zemishlany
Geha Mental Health Centre, Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel
V. Carli
The National Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention of Mental Ill-Health (NASP), Karolinska Institutet, S-171 77, Stockholm, Sweden
*Corresponding author. Tel.: +46 8 52 48 49 37; fax: +46 8 52 48 77 93. E-mail (D. Wasserman).
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Suicide is a major public health problem in the WHO European Region accounting for over 150,000 deaths per year.

Suicidal crisis:

Acute intervention should start immediately in order to keep the patient alive.


An underlying psychiatric disorder is present in up to 90% of people who completed suicide. Comorbidity with depression, anxiety, substance abuse and personality disorders is high. In order to achieve successful prevention of suicidality, adequate diagnostic procedures and appropriate treatment for the underlying disorder are essential.


Existing evidence supports the efficacy of pharmacological treatment and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in preventing suicidal behaviour. Some other psychological treatments are promising, but the supporting evidence is currently insufficient. Studies show that antidepressant treatment decreases the risk for suicidality among depressed patients. However, the risk of suicidal behaviour in depressed patients treated with antidepressants exists during the first 10–14 days of treatment, which requires careful monitoring. Short-term supplementary medication with anxiolytics and hypnotics in the case of anxiety and insomnia is recommended. Treatment with antidepressants of children and adolescents should only be given under supervision of a specialist. Long-term treatment with lithium has been shown to be effective in preventing both suicide and attempted suicide in patients with unipolar and bipolar depression. Treatment with clozapine is effective in reducing suicidal behaviour in patients with schizophrenia. Other atypical antipsychotics are promising but more evidence is required.

Treatment team:

Multidisciplinary treatment teams including psychiatrist and other professionals such as psychologist, social worker, and occupational therapist are always preferable, as integration of pharmacological, psychological and social rehabilitation is recommended especially for patients with chronic suicidality.


The suicidal person independently of age should always be motivated to involve family in the treatment.

Social support:

Psychosocial treatment and support is recommended, as the majority of suicidal patients have problems with relationships, work, school and lack functioning social networks.


A secure home, public and hospital environment, without access to suicidal means is a necessary strategy in suicide prevention. Each treatment option, prescription of medication and discharge of the patient from hospital should be carefully evaluated against the involved risks.

Training of personnel:

Training of general practitioners (GPs) is effective in the prevention of suicide. It improves treatment of depression and anxiety, quality of the provided care and attitudes towards suicide. Continuous training including discussions about ethical and legal issues is necessary for psychiatrists and other mental health professionals.

Copyright © Elsevier Masson SAS 2012

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