TUESDAY, May 2, 2023 (HealthDay News) — Reduced mental health care provider spatial-social accessibility is associated with increased suicide risk, according to a study published online May 1 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Daniel Tadmon and Peter S. Bearman, Ph.D., from the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics at Columbia University in New York City, examined the association between access to care and suicide using a dataset mapping all 711,214 licensed U.S. psychiatrists and psychotherapists as of early 2020 and employing transportation data to model barriers to patients’ mobility.

The researchers observed a strong association for reduced mental health care provider spatial-social accessibility with increased suicide risk. In locales where individuals seeking care can access fewer mental health care providers, suicide risk was increased (3.2 and 2.3 percent for each reduced standard deviation of psychiatrist and psychotherapist accessibility, respectively) using a machine learning approach to condition on 22 contextual factors associated with suicide. In addition, local spatial-social accessibility inequalities were associated with further increased suicide risk.

“Even without implying causality, merely establishing that populations in areas where social conditions put them at greater suicide risk also experience more severe barriers to mental health treatment is alarming and serves as powerful evidence that nowadays in the U.S. need and access to care are misaligned,” the authors write.

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