McLean Clinicians Honored with Suicide Prevention Award

Hollywood celebrities also honored

June 16, 2004

Adriana Bobinchock

Belmont, MA - McLean Hospital researchers Ross J. Baldessarini, MD, and Leonardo Tondo, MD, were recently honored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) with its 2004 research award. Baldessarini, a Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Harvard Medical School, also directs McLean's Psychopharmacology Program and International Consortium for Bipolar Disorder Research. Tondo is a research psychiatrist in the same McLean program and Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Cagliari in Sardinia. They were recognized for their studies demonstrating that long-term treatment with lithium is associated with striking reductions in rates of suicidal acts and fatalities in patients bipolar disorder or major depression.

They presented their research findings and received the award last month at a ceremony in New York City, where Hollywood celebrities Joan Rivers, Mariel Hemingway, Richard Belzer and the rock band Good Charlotte, were also honored by the AFSP for their roles in suicide education.

Baldessarini and Tondo collaborated with John Hennen, PhD, chief of McLean's Biostatistics Laboratory, to find that persons with bipolar disorder or major depression have a nearly nine-fold lower average risk of suicide during long-term treatment with lithium, as well as a marked reduction in risk of suicide attempts to levels close to the base rate in the general population. They have also found that other treatments, including mood-stabilizing anticonvulsants, antidepressants, antipsychotic agents (with the possible exception of clozapine for schizophrenia), electroconvulsive treatment, and psychosocial methods, either do not have evidence of comparable effects or are not adequately studied. They noted that the depressed phase of bipolar disorder not only carries a major risk for suicide, but also increases risks of substance abuse, disability, and of mortality from cardiac disease and other stress-sensitive medical causes.

Both Baldessarini and Tondo were gratified that the AFSP recognized the importance of their research in drawing unprecedented attention to the need for research on treatments aimed at reducing mortality rates associated with major mental illnesses. "With an audience that included suicide survivors, I had the feeling for the first time, that our research is not just about numbers, statistics and graphs. It' s about people." said Tondo.

McLean Hospital maintains the largest research program of any private, U.S. psychiatric hospital. It is the largest psychiatric facility of Harvard Medical School, an affiliate of Massachusetts General Hospital and a member of Partners HealthCare.

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