Psychologist and researcher Barbara Stanley, psychology professor at Columbia University and the director of suicide prevention training at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, has died at the age of 73 from ovarian cancer.
Dr Stanley was responsible for developing a simple and effective suicide prevention tool – the Stanley-Brown Safety Planning Intervention strategy, where people struggling with suicidal thoughts are urged to write down a plan listing different coping strategies and sources of support or distraction that could help them in times of suicidal crisis.
These written safety plans were first tested in 2008, at the time only viewed as a short-term measure to help adolescents while they waited for more labour-intensive therapy options to take effect. But patients responded so favourably to the written safety plans that they were then fully developed as interventions in their own right.
They were later compared to the safety cards handed out to passengers on airplanes or to stop, drop and roll fire safety training, providing people with very simple instructions to help them make sound decisions, even in the face of overwhelming emotion.
According to the New York Times, Dr Stanley said of the written documents: “Over two-thirds of the people had used their safety plan at least once. So it was a living, breathing document for them.”
And in 2018, a study of suicidal patients at Veterans Affairs hospitals around the US found that a written safety plan of this kind, with followup phone calls, was successful at reducing suicidal behaviour by 45 per cent. Patients were also twice as likely to engage with mental health treatment in the six months after their visit.
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