Warning Signs for Suicide Attempts

Bagge et al. conducted an observational study that involved reviewing chart data at 3 VHA hospitals. Researchers were interested in how Veterans contact the healthcare system in relation to suicide attempts. This study (lead author: Simons) utilized medical records of 93 Veterans who attempted suicide and then received VHA hospitalization care. The researchers sought to understand patterns of pre-attempt patient contacts, suicide screening, and efforts to reduce suicide risk relative to patient age in general medical settings.

As found in civilian studies, Veterans had a healthcare visit 27 days, on average, prior to attempting suicide, regardless of their age (50+ vs. Less than 50 years of age).

Additionally, Veterans over 50 were less likely than younger Veterans to have been screened for impulsivity or access to firearms. Veterans over 50 were also less likely to have documented efforts to reduce risk via safety planning, mental health treatment referral, or consideration for psychiatric hospitalization than younger Veterans.

Given this study’s relatively small sample size, a clear link between the Veterans’ suicide attempts and interactions with the healthcare system cannot be made. Further research should investigate these healthcare interactions with active duty personnel as well. While there are no current recommendations for implementation, additional research concerning these patterns in active duty populations may inform efforts to proactively identify and treat suicide risk among service members who may also contact the healthcare system prior to enacting self-directed violence.

Read about the research:

1. Ah medani, B. K. et al. Health Care Contacts in the Year Before Suicide Death. J. Gen. Intern. Med. 29, 870–877 (2014).
2. Simons, K., Van Orden, K., Conner, K. R. & Bagge, C. Age differences in suicide risk screening and management prior to suicide attempts. Am. J. Geriatr. Psychiatry 0, (2019).*

*Denotes publication from an MSRC-funded study.