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Suicide Prevention Efforts in Emergency Medicine Departments

NAMHC Concept Clearance


Jane Pearson, Ph.D.
Division of Services and Intervention Research


Emergency Medicine Department (ED) practitioners are responsible for appropriate risk assessment, discharge, and referral of high risk suicidal individuals, yet no evidence based standards exist for these practices. This initiative supports research to improve identification, evaluation, and appropriate referral by ED staff of individuals at risk for suicide, as well as research to develop practical interventions that can assist community providers who care for these high-risk patients.


Research that will reduce the burden of suicidality (deaths, attempts, and ideation) continues to be a major focus of NIMH. The field has seen substantial advances in understanding suicide risk factors as well as progress in clinical trials designed to reduce re-attempts. However, community providers critically need practical screening tools and interventions. The Emergency Medicine Departments are seeing increasing numbers of individuals who have attempted suicide. Despite this increase, standard screening instruments do not exist, nor do best practices for further evaluation of high-risk individuals and practice standards for facilitating appropriate referrals for follow-up care. Objective 7 of the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention (DHHS, 2001) identified EDs as a site for the opportunity to increase the proportion of suicidal patients who receive adequate follow-up as a way to prevent suicide. Community providers (e.g., mental health specialty, substance abuse, primary care) also need practical and effective strategies to improve the follow-up and management of suicidal individuals referred from EDs.

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