When it comes to mental health and therapy, who understands us better than our own family members? Research has shown that when families are involved in a person’s care, relapse rates and behaviors improve. 

Igor Galynker, MD, a member of the Center for Children and Youth Expert Panel, has extensively studied the role of the family in psychiatric illness, behavioral addictions, bipolar disorder, and suicide and prevention. Dr. Galynker emphasizes “family-inclusive treatment”, in which families work together to serve as an early warning for crises and work together to improve behavior.

One particular instance in which the family plays a vital role is in suicide prevention. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates have risen sharply in the last two decades and many who take their own lives have no history of suicide or mental illness. “You cannot rely on people telling you when they are or are not suicidal,”[i]  Dr. Galynker explained in a 2019 article in Undark magazine, a reference to the difference between lifelong and imminent suicide risk.

Until recently, there was no differentiation between the mental state associated with lifelong suicide risk, and the mental state associated with imminent suicide risk. Dr. Galynker has spent the past 10 years helping families whose loved ones experience imminent suicide risk, or Suicide Crisis Syndrome.

While many may be aware of the lifetime suicide risk factors, which include mental illness or a history of depression, imminent suicide risk factors are less known. They tend to be anxiety-related and include panic, agitation, insomnia, and an inability to feel pleasure. Those at imminent risk may only begin to feel suicidal in the moment or may hide their suicidal ideation.

Of course, every child who has trouble falling asleep at night or has a one-off panic attack is not at imminent risk, but understanding the distinction between lifetime and imminent risk factors is crucially important. Understanding Suicide Crisis Syndrome not only helps doctors and clinicians more fully understand a young person’s suicide risk, it also empowers families. Based on extensive research, Dr. Galynker has developed diagnostic tools and checklists, which are now being used to screen for suicide risk. He also continues to advocate to help families become more involved in the treatment of at-risk children.

It is this direct work with families that means the most to him, “I cannot imagine my life without seeing patients and without helping them and their families…it is my clinical work that gives my life its meaning.”[ii]

This is part of a series profiling the members of our Expert Panel who are leaders in mental health, parenting, and child development. We work with internationally recognized professionals to transform the lives of children and their families.

Igor Galynker, MD is the Founder and Director of the Richard and Cynthia Zirinsky Center for Bipolar Disorder and Associate Chairman for Research in the Department of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai Beth Israel. Dr. Galynker is also a Professor of Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York City. His clinical and research interests include behavioral addictions, bipolar disorder, suicide prevention, and the role of family in psychiatric illness. He has published on these topics in professional journals and in the lay press and has authored a book on family involvement in psychiatric treatment.

[i] Ehrenfeld, Temma. “Can a New Diagnosis Help Prevent Suicide?” Undark, September 11, 2019. https://undark.org/2019/09/11/new-diagnosis-prevent-suicide/.

[ii] The Galynker Center for Bipolar Disorder. 2021. Igor Galynker, MD, PhD., Director. [online] Available at: https://bpfamily.org/igor-galynker-md-phd-director/ [Accessed 11 October 2021].