Scientists are developing new ways to directly target the suicidal thoughts and behaviors of people at risk.

Researchers are finding that certain medications, like ketamine, clozapine and lithium, may alleviate suicidal thinking. Scientists are also tweaking existing psychological treatments, like cognitive behavioral therapy, and coming up with new ones to combat the desire for self-harm.

When treating suicidal patients, doctors typically address the mental disorders, like anxiety or depression, that often underlie suicidal acts. But that isn’t always enough. Treatments, like antidepressant drugs, can take weeks to relieve symptoms—way too long for someone in imminent danger. Patients often have to try several medications to find one that helps. Also, not everyone at risk for suicide has a mental illness.

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There’s an acute need. Rates of suicide deaths are rising in the U.S. The rate jumped 24% from 1999 to 2014, from 10.5 to 13 per 100,000 people, according to an April 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There’s perhaps the most excitement around ketamine. Ketamine has been used in higher doses as an anesthetic for decades. In recent years, it has been studied as a fast-acting treatment for depression, particularly for those whose illnesses haven't responded to other drugs. Ketamine can lift mood in as little as a few hours.

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