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Forestalling a Fatal Decision

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Forestalling a Fatal Decision

Social scientists have begun to close in on new ways to stop people from taking their own lives

Scientific American,

5 min read
4 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

With suicides rising at alarming rates, research in suicide prevention is finally starting to make headway.

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  • Scientific
  • Overview
  • Inspiring


For a new generation of researchers in suicide prevention, the motto is “Ask the question.” Only if suicide is talked about openly can it be prevented. Spurred on by rising rates of suicide over the last 20 years, researchers are testing both low- and high-tech methods to accurately identify people at risk and offer them treatment that promises long-term results. Science writer Lydia Denworth presents a tentatively optimistic outlook on reaching the ambitious goal that the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention has set: To reduce the suicide rate by 20% by 2025. This article will be of interest to anyone keen to understand the positive developments in an otherwise very bleak picture.


Rising suicide rates in the United States have spurred on researchers to find new ways to prevent suicide.

Suicide in the United States has become the 10th leading cause of death. Since 1999, suicide rates have increased by almost 30%. There has been a significant rise in suicides among middle-aged women and men as well as girls aged between 10 and 14.

Veterans are also increasingly at risk and are 20% more likely to take their lives than civilians. As a result, the US Department of Defense, the US Department of Veteran Affairs and the National Institute of Mental Health have put their weight behind research into suicide prevention.


About the Author

Lydia Denworth is a Brooklyn, N.Y. based science writer, a contributing editor for Scientific American, and author of Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond.

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