Emergency Department Suicide Screening Tool Accurately Predicts At Risk Youth

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A set of four questions that takes emergency department nurses or physicians less than 2 minutes to administer can successfully identify youth at risk for attempting suicide, reported a study by National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) researchers that was published in the December 2012 issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

Each year as many as 5 to 8 percent of U.S. children and young adults attempt suicide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2010, 4867 youths between ages 10 and 24 died by suicide, making it the second leading cause of death for people in this age group.

Most individuals who die by suicide have visited a health care provider 3 months to 1 year before their death. Typically these patients saw an emergency department (ED) nurse and physician for some other health concern such as abdominal pain or headaches. These at-risk individuals often go unrecognized by ED staff who either lack the time or training to properly screen patients. The Joint Commission, a leading U.S.-based nonprofit healthcare accreditation organization, and the American Academy of Pediatrics have previously recommended the creation and use of suicide screening tools for adult and pediatric patient populations. To date there are no screening instruments to assess suicide risk in children and adolescents who visit EDs for medical or surgical reasons.

“Many families use the emergency department as their sole contact in the healthcare system,” said Lisa M. Horowitz, Ph.D., M.P.H., lead author of the study. “Most people don’t show up to the emergency department and say ‘I want to kill myself.’ Rather they show up with physical complaints and do not discuss their suicidal thoughts. But studies have shown that if you ask directly, the majority will tell you. Nurses and physicians need to know what questions to ask.”

–NIMH

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