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New Tool Could Better Predict Suicide Risk

May 22nd, 2019

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States for people aged 15 to 34. Although there are often warning signs that someone is thinking about suicide, it is difficult to predict who will go on to attempt or commit suicide. But a research study published in JAMA Psychiatry and led by Nadine Melhem, PhD, at the University of Pittsburgh, shows that focusing on patterns of depressive symptoms may help healthcare providers better assess suicidality in high-risk young people.

Over 12 years, the researchers studied 663 young adults who were at an increased risk of suicide due to a parent’s mood disorder diagnosis. Both parents and young adults completed questionnaires about their mood and underwent psychiatric assessments. The researchers found that they could best predict suicidal behavior by noticing which participants had severe and varied depressive symptoms. Based on their findings, the researchers developed a Predictive Risk Score (PRS) that health professionals could use to identify risk of suicidal behavior in patients.

While this new tool needs more research, it could change current psychiatric treatment for the better. “Our findings suggest that when treating patients, clinicians must pay particular attention to the severity of current and past depressive symptoms and try to reduce their severity and fluctuations to decrease suicide risk,” Melhem said. “The PRS is a valuable addition to the physician’s toolkit to help predict suicide risk in high-risk individuals, and it can be done at little cost because the information needed is already being collected as part of standard evaluations.”

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