By Robert Preidt
April 24, 2015
Many people who attempt suicide have a health care visit in the weeks or months beforehand, which suggests health visits may provide opportunities for suicide prevention, researchers report.
Suicide prevention efforts usually focus on emergency and mental health settings, rather than primary care settings such as doctors' offices, said the researchers led by Brian Ahmedani of Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.
"This study supports the promotion of suicide prevention within general outpatient settings, where most people visit before a suicide attempt," Ahmedani and his colleagues said.
The researchers examined data from about 22,400 Americans who attempted to kill themselves between 2009 and 2011. The study authors found that 38 percent had a health care visit within a week before the attempt, 64 percent had a health visit within a month before the attempt, and nearly 95 percent had a health visit within a year before the attempt.
The proportion of visits made by people with a mental health or substance abuse diagnosis was 25 percent within a week, 44 percent within a month, and 73 percent within a year before a suicide attempt, the findings showed.
Significant racial/ethnic differences emerged, the researchers said. Whites were more likely to have had a health visit or a mental health appointment within a week before a suicide attempt, compared with people in other racial/ethnic groups, the investigators found.
Asian Americans were least likely to make any type of health visit in the year before attempting suicide, the study found. While Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders had the highest rate of hospital admissions and emergency department visits before a suicide attempt, they had the lowest rate of mental health or substance abuse diagnoses.
More than one million people attempt suicide each year in the United States, according to the study published in the May issue of the journal Medical Care. The recently published National Strategy for Suicide Prevention pointed to health care as one of the best places to intervene.
"This research provides essential information to aid suicide prevention efforts in health care systems," Ahmedani and colleagues said in a journal news release.
They also pointed out that their findings about racial/ethnic differences show the need for "culturally competent mental illness detection and treatment" in minority groups.