Screening for Suicide Risk

From Psychiatric News Alert: While there is no screening tool proven to identify people at risk of suicide, a new study suggests that the commonly used Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) depression-assessment instrument may be a useful screening tool for detecting suicide risk.

In particular, Item 9 of that questionnaire (“Over the last two weeks, how often have you been bothered by thoughts that you would be better off dead, or of hurting yourself in some way” or a question to that effect depending on the version) was a strong predictor of suicide attempt and suicide death over the following year.

Even after accounting for treatment history and demographic factors, “item 9 remained a strong predictor of any suicide attempt,” the researchers said. In their report “Does Response on the PHQ-9 Questionnaire Predict Subsequent Suicide Attempt or Suicide Death?” in the December Psychiatric Services, Gregory Simon, M.D., M.P.H., and colleagues explained that the immediate risk of suicide attempt was low but increased over several days and continued to grow for several months, indicating a need for follow-up care to address ongoing risk. “Suicidal ideation should be viewed as an enduring vulnerability rather than simply a short-term crisis,” they said.

To read more about recent research on suicide risk, see the Psychiatric News article “Psychotic Symptoms Found to Be Strong Suicide Risk Factor in Teens.”

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