A federal initiative aims to bring experts from the two fields
closer together in an effort to save lives.
BY REBECCA A. CLAY
Suicide and intimate partner violence are both major public health crises, and they’re closely linked, says Richard McKeon, PhD, chief of the
suicide prevention branch at the U.S. Substance Abuse
and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
Survivors of intimate partner violence are twice as
likely to attempt suicide multiple times, he points out,
and cases of murder-suicide are most likely to occur in
the context of abuse.
Yet despite the clear link, the mental health and
intimate partner violence fields have historically worked
in isolation. Now that’s starting to change. Over the
last two years, SAMHSA has been working to bring
the two fields closer together. The psychologists and
other experts involved in the effort have been reviewing
the research, creating webinars and other educational
resources and exploring additional ways to ensure that
those working in suicide prevention don’t miss signs of
intimate partner violence and those working in intimate
partner violence don’t miss suicide warning signs.
When each field isn’t educated about the other,
the results can be deadly, says McKeon. For example,
people working in the intimate partner violence field
may minimize suicide threats made by perpetrators of
violence as simply attempts to manipulate partners.
Such threats, however, indicate a genuine risk of harm
to both perpetrators and their victims.
Similarly, says McKeon, if someone comes to
the emergency room because of a suicide attempt
or because of intimate partner violence, “It’s very
important to inquire if intimate partner violence is
taking place or if they’re having suicidal thoughts.”
The SAMHSA group includes scholars, government
representatives, advocates, leaders of community-