How much of a role can emergency departments (ED) play in preventing suicide attempts? The world’s largest study of 1,376 suicidal patients gave the answer.
By implementing interventions at the ED, hospitals were able to lower the of risk patients attempting suicide again by 20% compared to if they are treated as usual (TAU). Researchers also found that “there were no meaningful differences in risk reduction between the TAU and screening phases.”
The study, called the Emergency Department Safety Assessment and Follow-up Evaluation (ED-SAFE), was the largest suicide intervention trial to date, covering patients from eight EDs and seven states.
“Results indicated that the provision of universal screening, while successful in identifying more participants, did not significantly affect subsequent suicidal behavior compared with that experienced by participants in the TAU phase,” they wrote. “By contrast, those participants who received the intervention had lower rates of suicide attempts and behaviors and fewer total suicide attempts over a 52-week period.”
With around 42,000 deaths annually, suicide is the seventh leading cause of death for American men, the 14th for American women, and the 10th overall. Annually, there are 460,000 ED visits that occur following cases of self-harm and a single ED visit due to self-harm increases future suicide risk by almost sixfold, according to the study.
The study compared a control group of patients who were given TAU, a group that was just screened, and one group that was screened along with interventions.
Intervention efforts included additional suicide screening, suicide prevention info, and a personalized safety plan for dealing with future suicide ideation, and periodic telephone follow-ups. Those who received
these interventions made 30% fewer total suicide attempt than others.
“We were happy that we were able to find these results,” said lead author Ivan Miller, PhD, professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, in a statement. “We would like to have had an even stronger effect, but the fact that we were able to impact attempts with this population and with a relatively limited intervention is encouraging.”
Overall, 21% of those studied made at least one suicide attempt within 12 months. Those in the TAU group had a 22.9% suicide attempt rate, while in the screening group it was 21.5%. The intervention group only had a rate of 18.3%. Of all patients studied, there were five fatal suicide attempts.