Treating insomnia can reduce thoughts of suicide

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AUGUSTA, GA (WJBF) – As suicide rates rise, doctors continue to look for ways to save lives. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34. Suicide has been a top 10 killer for people of all ages since 2008.

Right now, doctors at the Medical College of Georgia are learning more about why insomnia is a risk for suicide and how to treat it.

Dr. Vaughn McCall, chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University points out that there is a strong link between insomnia and mental illness. Insomnia increases the risk of depression and vice versa. Both increase suicide risk.

The answers as to what doctors should do with this information are hard to find. Depression studies rarely include suicidal people because drug companies fear the risks. However, Dr. McCall is studying the topic now to learn more.

“If you treated the insomnia, could you make a difference? Nobody was touching that,” says Dr. McCall about the question for which they sought to find an answer.

They studied 103 people with major depressive disorder, insomnia and suicidal thoughts. All were given an anti-depressant, but only half were also given a sleeping pill. Dr. McCall explains what they found at the end of the 8 week study.

“Those folks who just got an anti-depressant, the good news is, many of them got much better and their suicidal ideation went away and their sleep got better, but those who got the anti-depressant with the sleeping pill, they had an advantage, not only in sleep, but also in suicidal ideation,” Dr. McCall says.


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The takeaway – sleeping pills can help reduce suicide risks for some people when prescribed correctly.

“One of the fears of prescribing sleeping pills is that once you get started, there is no going back, it becomes an open ended prescription. The patients have a tough time, but what was fascinating in our work is we told the patients up front this is an 8 week study, at the end of 8 weeks, we are going to stop the medication at bedtime and remarkably people did well,” Dr. McCall describes.

Another fear is that people with suicidal tendencies could use the sleeping pills as a vehicle to commit suicide. Dr. McCall points out when monitored and prescribed in small doses over a short period of time, their research shows that treating insomnia reduces depression and thoughts of suicide.

Dr. McCall says there are a list of follow up questions that still need answers. For example, instead of using a prescription to treat insomnia, could they use cognitive therapy and have the same positive results with regard to a decrease in suicidal thoughts. Dr. McCall hopes to have an answer in the future.

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