Hospitals can play a more active role in suicide prevention

Hospitals must increase mental health screenings and improve targeted follow-up practices with at-risk patients to make progress on suicide prevention, according to research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Researchers studied 16,411 suicides that occurred in Scotland between 1981 and 2010. Almost two-thirds of the deaths were linked to hospital records, according to lead researcher Nadine Dougall of the University of Stirling and her team.

One quarter of the suicides occurred fewer than three months after hospital discharge. Fifty-eight percent of those discharges were from a general hospital. Furthermore, just 14 percent of those discharged from a general hospital left with a psychiatric diagnosis, according to the study announcement. An additional 19 percent of patients discharged from general hospitals had a previous history of mental illness that wasn't documented during their hospital stay.

Less than half of all those who died after being discharged from a general hospital had self-injury diagnoses, with men aged 15-45 accounting for 60 percent of that portion. Twenty-two percent of those with self-harm diagnoses killed themselves within three months, and 68 percent within a year of discharge, according to the article.

"Our study found that substantially more people who died by suicide were last discharged from general hospitals, rather than psychiatric hospitals, with many of these deaths having occurred relatively soon after a discharge," Dougall said in the announcement. "This suggests that more opportunities for intervention may exist."

To combat the issue, the researchers recommended hospitals target follow-ups with patients who inflicted self-harm, particularly men, and screen more for mental illness. To do this, hospitals must use electronic health records and ensure staff perform basic mental health screenings for "at risk" patients, according to the announcement.

In the U.S., the Department of Veterans Affairs has begun researching the use of natural language processing within its electronic health system to automate suicide risk alerts, FierceHealthIT previously reported.

To learn more:
- here's the study abstract
- read the announcement