Most individuals who die by suicide have visited a health care provider 3 months to 1 year before their death. Typically these patients saw an emergency department ED nurse and physician for some other health concern such as abdominal pain or headaches. These at-risk individuals often go unrecognized by ED staff who either lack the time or training to properly screen patients.
“Many families use the emergency department as their sole contact in the healthcare system,” said Lisa M. Horowitz, Ph.D., M.P.H., lead author of a study by National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) that was published in the December 2012 issue of the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. “Most people don’t show up to the emergency department and say ‘I want to kill myself.’ Rather they show up with physical complaints and do not discuss their suicidal thoughts. But studies have shown that if you ask directly, the majority will tell you. Nurses and physicians need to know what questions to ask.”