Suicide Is a Tendency, Not a Destiny, Says Suicide Researcher
Danuta Wasserman, who is a professor of psychiatry and suicidology at Swedish medical university Karolinska Institute and the founder and head of the national Swedish suicide research and prevention center, spoke to Calcalist during a recent visit to Israel
But it is not just about genetics, Wasserman said. In women, a suicide attempt is often a call for help and getting the help they need tips the scale, which indicates that the environment and outside treatment could help prevent suicide, she explained. Since they are more prone to suicide, Wasserman’s studies show that men require more help and support in dealing with stress due to their genetic makeup.
In the future, genetic research could help adjust treatment according to the patient's unique makeup, Wasserman said, adding that it could only work in combination with psychological treatment.
Suicide is not a destiny, it is a tendency that affects a person’s personality, their aspiration, and the way they view the world, Wasserman said. The other half of the story is still the interaction between that person’s genetics and their environment, she added, explaining that people could do a lot more for those that are suicidal, if only they were better educated on the subject.Suicide and other mental health issues are still taboo, Wasserman said, adding she finds it vital to teach the subject in school in order to help students be more aware of the dangers and signs. Kids learn about stress, cancer, and other diseases in school, they can also learn about mental health, as a way to normalize the discourse, she said. Asked if such a discussion might not encourage kids to act on their suicidal urges, Wasserman said she believed a dialogue and open discussions could help such children and the people close to them find more constructive solutions.
A study her team conducted in collaboration with the World Health Organization on patients around the world showed that doing post-treatment follow-ups could decrease the number of suicides by up to 90%. The study ran for 24 months but, according to Wasserman, the first year is the most critical. The follow-ups can be made in meetings or even over the phone by interns or students, providing a sense that somebody cares, she said.Suicidal thoughts do not normally vanish into thin air, but you do not have to live with them all of the time, either, she said. These thoughts come and go and it is important for patients to be aware of them and remember that they have faced them and prevailed in the past, she added.