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NIH recommends universal suicide risk screening for adolescents

Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health have suggested that providing intervention programs in medical environments could help fight youth suicides.

A study from earlier this year, published in Psychosomatics, displays a new three-tiered clinical pathway system universal suicide risk screening within pediatric health care environments.

"Suicide is a major public health concern and early detection is a critical prevention strategy," Joshua A. Gordon, NIMH Director and study author, said in a news release. "Part of NIMH's suicide prevention research portfolio focuses primarily on testing and implementing effective strategies for identifying individuals at risk of suicide. Results from these research efforts are poised to make a real difference and help save lives."

The first tier of the clinical method uses an initial screening of all youth 20-second Ask Suicide-Screening Questions, or ASQ, tool to locate suicide risk in pediatric medical patients. The test is available in 14 languages.

The second tier, deemed the most critical, is a 10 to 15-minute assessment administered by a clinician to classify a patient's suicide risk as low, high or imminent. The third tier evaluates the patient's safety and establishes an intervention plan.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 6,000 people under age 25 died by suicides. Most of these young people visited a health care provider a month prior to committing suicide. Experts think medical settings make a good place to provide suicide intervention services.

Across all age groups, suicide ranked as the 10th leading cause of death overall in the U.S.

In 2007, The Joint Commission,report recommended behavioral health patients who visit psychiatric and general hospitals get screened for suicide risk. But a follow-up analysis of the data showed that more than a quarter of hospital suicides happen at non-behavioral units like emergency departments, inpatient medical units and outpatient clinics.

Based on this data, the commission amended its recommendation, suggesting suicide risk assessments for all patients visiting any medical setting.

"Clinicians from across North America came together to address this youth crisis in a feasible, consistent and flexible way that can be adapted to each system where suicidal youth present," said Maryland Pao, clinical director of the NIMH Intramural Research Program and study co-author.

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