“There’s no evidence that treating a mental disorder reduces suicide. The evidence is that treating suicidal behavior reduces suicide.”
That’s Marsha Linehan, founder of Dialectical Behavior Therapy and a psychology researcher at the University of Washington. I had to read Linehan’s quote, from this article in Nature Medicine, a couple times before its meaning sunk in. It was a little revolutionary.
Most people who spend a lot of time thinking about how to prevent suicide also spend a lot of time thinking about mental illness. Even for this blog, I’m just as open to writing about mental illness as I am to writing about suicide and suicide prevention. I tend to see it all linked, sometimes inextricably.
But, Linehan makes an important point, one reinforced by what anyone working in the field of suicide prevention can’t deny: It isn’t mental illness that’s linked to suicide. It’s suicidal behavior.
The distinction is subtle, perhaps. To clarify, there are a lot of people who have mental illness who don’t ever think about, plan for, or attempt suicide. So, suicide prevention strategies that focus on treating mental illness might miss the opportunity to focus on something that we know can lead to suicide: suicide attempts.