Sending Out an SOS: Science of Suicide

— A brief, but important, call to action

A photo of a woman silhouetted by a rainy window.
Copelan is an expert in emergency department psychiatry.

Suspicious to the very limits of my personality, imagination, and training, I admit that I experience instances of intense exasperation and sadness with the current field of suicidology. It is apparent, if not obvious, that this field has a tenuous hold on its reasoned grounds to reduce the burden of suicide aspirationally rather than scientifically.

At a time when our country is now ravaged by historically high self-murder, as told last week by CDC's provisional (likely underreported) data, we will only face further misery in a field that continues to repeat bad science. The number of deaths by suicide has increased another 2.6% from 2021 to 2022. What then are the critical questions to be asked and answered?

Where is either individual or collective investigator outrage, curiosity, or cross disciplinary innovation to overcome stale methods and unworkable hypotheses?

Where are the robust challenges to old ideation-centric, depressogenic assessment laws with deeply ingrained biases, logical fallacies, and superficiality?

Why are researchers kept busy with all this dated statistical tomfoolery to the detriment of necessary likelihood ratio work to advance a better understanding in this probabilistic field?

There must be extraordinary and dynamic acts of sustained investigative stamina. There must be some vital force that will cast all these questions and inefficiencies aside.

Institutions and individuals must not be dominated by the crassness of the status quo, the vanity of what they decree, and material things but rather by the novel idea that they are unselfishly willing to aid a common and good cause.

Even as the scientific community becomes more divided, we must pursue our work with greater vigor with the hope that scientific unity -- so obvious in other areas of medicine -- may emerge. We must stress the ardor for this scientific battle, which I believe we all feel and must at last pursue together.

Russell Copelan, MD (Ret.), lives in Pensacola, Florida. He graduated from Stanford University and UCLA Medical School. He trained in neurosurgery and completed residency and fellowship in emergency department psychiatry at UC Irvine and University of Colorado, Denver. He is a reviewer for Academic Psychiatry and founder of eMed Logic, a non-profit originator and distributor of violence assessments. Copelan is also a presenter for the National Association of School Psychologists Speaker's Bureau, and a consultant to the American Association of Suicidology.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.