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December 27, 2016

Increase in US Suicide Rates and the Critical Decline in Psychiatric Beds

Author Affiliations
  • 1Mind and Brain, South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute, Adelaide, Australia
  • 2Discipline of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia
  • 3Shepherd Pratt Health System, Baltimore, Maryland
JAMA. 2016;316(24):2591-2592. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.16989

The closure of most US public mental hospital beds and the reduction in acute general psychiatric beds over recent decades have led to a crisis, as overall inpatient capacity has not kept pace with the needs of patients with psychiatric disorders.1 Currently, state-funded psychiatric beds are almost entirely forensic (ie, allocated to people within the criminal justice system who have been charged or convicted). Very limited access to nonforensic psychiatric inpatient care is contributing to the risks of violence, incarceration, homelessness, premature mortality, and suicide among patients with psychiatric disorders. In particular, a safe minimum number of psychiatric beds is required to respond to suicide risk given the well-established and unchanging prevalence of mental illness, relapse rates, treatment resistance, nonadherence with treatment, and presentations after acute social crisis. Very limited access to inpatient care is likely a contributing factor for the increasing US suicide rate. In 2014, suicide was the second-leading cause of death for people aged between 10 and 34 years and the tenth-leading cause of death for all age groups, with firearm trauma being the leading method.2,3