According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States; for teens and young adults ages 15 to 25 it is the 2nd leading cause of death[i]. Suicide not only effects individuals, but is considered a serious public health problem with implications for families and communities as well.

Today, September 10th, the American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA) joins the International Association of Suicide Prevention and others around the world in support of 2015 World Suicide Prevention Day. Today serves as a call to action for individuals, communities and organizations to engage in the prevention of suicides. Preventing Suicide: Reaching Out and Saving Lives is this year’s theme, encouraging all to consider the role that offering support may play in combating suicide; this includes reaching out to those who have been bereaved by a suicide.

Suicide Risk Factors and Prevention Measures

Though some populations tend to have higher risk[ii],[iii], suicide and suicidal behavior occur in individuals of all ages, identities, religions, genders, races, cultures, classes and orientations. The causes of suicide are individualized, complex and multi-faceted, however some general risk factors according to the CDC include[iv]:

  • Family history of suicideRiskFactors
  • Family history of child maltreatment
  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • History of mental disorders, particularly clinical depression
  • History of alcohol and substance abuse
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
  • Cultural and religious beliefs (e.g., belief that suicide is noble resolution of a personal dilemma)
  • Local epidemics of suicide
  • Isolation, a feeling of being cut off from other people
  • Barriers to accessing mental health treatment
  • Loss (relational, social, work, or financial)
  • Physical illness
  • Easy access to lethal methods
  • Unwillingness to seek help because of the stigma attached to mental health and substance abuse disorders or to suicidal thoughts

The major goal in suicide prevention is to reduce these risk factors (including, but not limited to those listed above) and increase resilience and protective factors. Some protective factors are: access to quality, on-going mental health services; family and community support; and problem solving and conflict resolution skills[v]. Ideally, prevention addresses all aspects of influence on an individual’s functioning. This calls for interventions individually, in relationships, in families, in communities, and in societies as well as global interventions.

Suicide, Mental Illness and Dance/Movement Therapy

At least 90 percent of successful suicide attempts are committed by individuals who were suffering from a mental illness at the time, depression being the most common[vi]. Dance/movement therapy, the psychotherapeutic use of movement to further the emotional, cognitive, physical and social integration of the individual, is a viable treatment option for a spectrum of individuals living with mental illness, including those with depression[vii] and suicidal thoughts.

Many dance/movement therapists have the clinical training and expertise to work with at-risk individuals and groups incorporating  both preventative and risk reducing interventions. Because dance/movement therapy is focused on the physical, cognitive, emotional and social integration of an individual – it is inherently a holistic approach that seeks to understand and bring awareness to the whole person which, ideally, encourages resilience in individuals .


Historically, many pioneering dance/movement therapists began their work in inpatient psychiatric facilities; this work continues today with a high rate of individuals admitted for suicidal ideation and/or suicide attempts. In the psychiatric hospital setting, dance/movement therapists work along side an interdisciplinary team to provide individual and group services as both primary and auxiliary interventions. A dance/movement therapy inpatient session may incorporate goals including, but not limited to, increasing self-regulation, fostering connecting with others and coping through movement.

Outside of the hospital, dance/movement therapy is used individually, in relationships, in families, in communities, and in societies to address individuals along the suicide spectrum. If a client is depressed, withdrawn, or lacking energy, the dance/movement therapist meets the person at his or her current state to create a connection. When there is little or no movement available, dance/movement therapists connect through micro-movements (breath, eye contact, shifts in posture) and use this connection as an opening for possibility and growth.


Awareness of suicide and its risks are the first steps toward prevention. All people are encouraged to join in the education of communities and reach out to those at risk.



Learn more about suicide prevention and dance/movement therapy at ADTA’s September 18th webinar titled Creating Health: Dance/Movement Therapy’s Contributions to Suicide Prevention with expert Susan D. Imus, MA, BC-DMT, LCPC, GL-CMA.


[i] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [Online]. (2013) National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC (producer). Available from URL

[ii] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Populations at Risk for Suicide. Retrieved August 31, 2015, from

[iii] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) [Online]. (2013) National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC (producer). Available from URL

[iv] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Suicide: Risk and Protective Factors. (2015, August 28). Retrieved August 31, 2015, from

[v] U.S. Public Health Service. The surgeon general’s call to action to prevent suicide. Washington DC: US Department of Health and Human Services; 1999.

[vi] Cavanagh JT, Carson AJ, Sharpe M, Lawrie SM. Psychological autopsy studies of suicide: a systematic review. Psychol med. 2003; 33(3):395−405.

[vii] Jeong, Y., Hong, S., Lee, M., Park, M., Kim, Y., & Suh, C. (2009). Dance Movement Therapy Improves Emotional Responses And Modulates Neurohormones In Adolescents With Mild Depression. International Journal of Neuroscience, 115(12), 1711-1720. Retrieved September 3, 2015, from

Author's Note: Special thanks to editor-in-chief Ande Welling for assistance with this piece.


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