Many adults who consider suicide fail to seek help from a doctor or mental health professional, and even those who do ask for help may find it difficult to obtain adequate treatment or medication, according to a new study.
"We need to improve access to treatment for people with suicide ideation," said Ruth Klap, Ph.D., a sociologist at University of California in Los Angeles and study co-author. "There is a problem with perceived need for care," and even among those who realize they need it, "there are a substantial number who don't get care." she said.
In the study, to be published in the upcoming issue of General Hospital Psychiatry, Klap and colleagues analyzed data from a telephone survey of 7,896 adults. Those who reported thoughts of suicide within the past year were asked whether they sought treatment from a doctor or counselor or took medication for mental health or drug or alcohol problems.
Only 3.6 percent of the study respondents reported having suicidal, but of these, 74 percent had symptoms of a serious psychiatric disorder, most commonly depression. A little over half (56 percent) believed they needed care from a doctor or mental health professional.
But the results also suggest that even suicidal adults who ask for help may not get it. Forty-four percent of the suicidal adults had visited a primary care doctor for help with an alcohol, drug or mental health disorder, but only a quarter of suicidal adults received treatment from a mental health professional.
"People suffering from a significant mental disorder may find it difficult to navigate the health care system and ask for the treatment they need," said Heather V. Krell, M.D., a psychiatrist at UCLA not affiliated with the study.
"People feeling suicidal may be inhibited by the stigma of it," Krell said. Lack of motivation and energy may also pose a problem for suicidal adults who recognize they need help.
Both family members and mental health care professionals have a responsibility to help suicidal adults get the care and treatment they need, Krell said.