Dialectical Behavior Therapy Reduces Suicide Risk in Teens

Peter M. Yellowlees, MBBS, MD


January 02, 2019

This is the Medscape Psychiatry Minute. I'm Dr Peter Yellowlees.

Suicide is a leading cause of death among 10- to 24-year-old individuals in the United States, but we have little evidence about effective treatments for adolescents who engage in suicidal behaviors. Now a team of investigators[1] from the Seattle Children's Research Institute in Washington have performed a randomized clinical trial across four sites, involving 173 adolescents aged 12-18 years, to evaluate the efficacy of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) compared with individual and group supportive therapy in reducing suicide attempts, nonsuicidal self-injury, and overall self-harm among high-risk youths.

The researchers found significant advantages for DBT on all three of these primary outcomes after treatment. The results support the efficacy of DBT for reducing self-harm and suicide attempts in highly suicidal self-harming adolescents. The researchers concluded that DBT should now be viewed as the first well-established, empirically supported treatment for decreasing repeated suicide attempts and self-harm in youths.

For all of us who work with adolescents and their families, this is a very important study which replicates prior results. DBT, given individually and in groups, should now be seen as both evidence-based and as a core component of a multipronged therapeutic approach for suicidal adolescents. Thankfully, DBT is becoming more widely available, as increasing numbers of therapists are trained in the modality. DBT is well known to be an effective therapy in groups of adults with self-harming and impulsive behavior, but it seems now that we should also focus on self-harming adolescents and increasing their access to this important treatment.

Thank you for listening to this Medscape Psychiatry Minute. Do continue to enjoy your practice.


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