Suicidal patients are likely to attempt suicide again, and so they are given very powerful drugs to suppress their feelings.
It's a brave psychiatrist who dares to dispense with the drug therapy and instead tries to engage directly with the patient. And yet, when he does, it's an approach that works remarkably well and, over longer periods, it can be even more effective than powerful drugs, as a new study has discovered.
A group of 120 patients who had attempted suicide in the previous 48 hours were assigned either to standard drug therapy or to a course of cognitive behavioural therapy. Over the next 18 months, 13 participants - 24 per cent - in the cognitive group attempted suicide, compared with 23 patients - 42 per cent - in the drugs group.
It was also reckoned that those who had had cognitive therapy were 50 per cent less likely to attempt suicide than someone who had been given drugs (JAMA, 2005; 294: 571-9).