It is Suicide Prevention Week, a time to focus on being supportive to those struggling to make sense of life. Suicide’s devastating effects make it difficult to talk about, but rates of suicide are increasing. The CDC reports that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and that suicide rates have increased by 33% between 1999-2019. It may come as no surprise that suicidal ideation has gone up during the time of COVID-19 in children and youth as well as college-aged populations. Factors to consider when thinking about a person’s risk for suicide are military activity, veteran status, family history of violence and trauma, social acceptance of identity, class or ethnicity, age groups of 15-24 and over 60, as well as a lack of social support systems. In addition, there is a connection between suicidality, addiction, and substance use.
Reducing the stigma around suicide can help. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline website outlines several ways to help those who we suspect may be having suicidal thoughts. Contrary to popular belief, asking someone in a caring way if they are having thoughts of suicide does not increase the risk of suicidal ideation. Research shows that this act of connection may actually reduce the risk of suicide and suicidal ideation. Listening without judgment can help, and checking to make sure a person with suicidal ideation does not have access to lethal means like guns or pills is also important. Keeping people at risk of suicide connected to a supportive community and checking in on them periodically can be very important in preventing suicide.
EMDR therapy is known to reduce PTSD symptoms such as anxiety and depression. Depression is one of the key factors in suicidal ideation. So, it is not hard to conclude that EMDR therapy could decrease suicidal ideation. In fact, recent research by Fereidouni et al. (2019), as well as Proudlock and Peris (2020) indicated that the use of EMDR therapy did reduce suicidal ideation. Proudlock and Peris noted that research participants who had undergone EMDR therapy “felt more able to manage their mental health symptoms and displayed higher self-efficacy following treatment.” Ongoing research for EMDR therapy in this area is encouraged.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Resources: The EMDRIA Online Community is a place for EMDRIA members to share questions and best practices on pertinent topic areas. In addition, EMDR trained therapists can search for upcoming workshops on our Education Calendar, including EMDR Therapy and Suicidality. Below are some articles that could be helpful for EMDR therapists considering working with suicidal and self-harming populations.*
Peer-Reviewed Research Articles: Note that not all articles are open access, but those that are should be indicated that way.
Annesley, P., Alabi, A., & Longdon, L. (2019). The EMDR DeTUR protocol for the treatment of self-injury in a patient with severe personality disorder: a case report. Journal of Criminological Research, Policy and Practice, 5(1), 27-38. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCRPP-11-2018-0034
Fereidouni, Z., Behnammoghadam, M., Jahanfar, A., & Dehghan, A. (2019). The effect of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) on the severity of suicidal thoughts in patients witih major depressive disorder: A randomized controlled trial. Neuropyschiatric Disease and Treatment, 15, 2459-2466. Open access: https://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S210757
Jacob, R., Li, T. Y., Martin, Z., Burren, A., Watson, P., Kant, R., Davies, R., & Wood, D. F. (2020). Taking care of our future doctors: A service evaluation of a medical student mental health service. BMC Medical Education, 20(1), 172. Open access: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12909-020-02075-8
Jamshidi, F., Rajabi, S., & Dehghani, Y. (2020). How to heal their psychological wounds? Effectiveness of EMDR therapy on post-traumatic stress symptoms, mind-wandering and suicidal ideation in Iranian child abuse victims. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 21(2), 412-421. https://doi.org/10.1002/capr.12339
Kim, H-J., Kim, J. E., & Lee, S-H. (2021). Early trauma is associated with suicidal ideation in patients with panic disorder. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, PrePrint. https://doi.org/10.1097/nmd.0000000000001368
McLaughlin, D. F., McGowan, I. W., Paterson, M. C., & Miller, P. W. (2008). Cessation of deliberate self harm following eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing: A case report. BMC Cases Journal, 177. Open access: https://doi.org/10.1186/1757-1626-1-177
Mosquera, D., & Ross, C. A. (2016). Application of EMDR therapy to self-harming behaviors. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 10(2), 119-128. Open access: http://dx.doi.org/10.1891/1933-3220.127.116.11
Ostacoli, L., Carletto, S., Marco, C., Baldomir-Gago, P., Di Lorenzo, G., Fernandez, I., Hase, M., Justo-Alonso, A., Lehnung, M., Migliaretti, G., Oliva, F., Pagani, M., Recarey-Eiris, S. Torta, R., Tumani, V., Gonzalez-Vazquez, A. I., & Hofmann, A. (2018). Comparison of eye movement desensitization reprocessing and cognitive behavioral therapy as adjunctive treatments for recurrent depression: The European Depression EMDR Network (EDEN) randomized controlled trial. Frontiers in Psychology, 9(74), 1-12. Open access: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00074
Proudlock, S., & Hutchins, J. (2016). EMDR within crisis resolution and home treatment teams. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 10(1), 47-56. Open access: https://doi.org/10.1891/1933-318.104.22.168
Proudlock, S., & Peris, J. (2020). Using EMDR therapy with patients in an acute mental health crisis. BMC Psychiatry, 20, 14. Open access: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-019-2426-7
Spector, J., Kremer, S. (2009). Can I use EMDR with clients who report suicidal ideation? Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 3(2), 107-108. Open Access: https://doi.org/10.1891/1933-322.214.171.124
van Bentum, J. S., Sijbrandij, M., Huibers, M. J., Huisman, A., Arntz, A., Holmes, E., & Kerkhof, A. (2017). Treatment of intrusive suicidal imagery using eye movements. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14, 174. Open access: https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14070714
van Bentum, J. S., Sijbrandij, M., Kerkof, A. J., Huisman, A., Arntz, A. R., Holmes, E. A., Franx, G., Mokkenstorm, J., & Huibers, M. J. (2019). Treating repetitive suicidal intrusions using eye movements: Study protocol for a multicenter randomized clinical trial. BMC Psychiatry 19, 143. Open access: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-019-2129-0
Winkler, O., Dhaliwal, R., Greenwhaw, A., O’Shea, K., Abba-Aji, A., Chima, C., Purdon, S. E., & Burback, L. (2021). Web-based eye movement desensitization and reprocessing for adults with suicidal ideation: Protocol for a randomized controlled trial. JMIR Research Protocols, 10(11): e30711. Open access: https://doi.org/10.2196/30711
Topel, F. (2021, July 12). Paris Jackson shares how she healed from suicidal ideation. Showbiz Cheat Sheet. https://www.cheatsheet.com/entertainment/paris-jackson-suicidal-ideation.html/
*We welcome any related resources or article suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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