Restricting youth suicide: behavioral health patients in an urban pediatric emergency department

Steven C Rogers, Susan DiVietro, Kevin Borrup, Ashika Brinkley, Yifrah Kaminer, Garry Lapidus
Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery 2014, 77 (3 Suppl 1): S23-8

BACKGROUND: Suicide is the third leading cause of death among individuals age 10 years to 19 years in the United States. Adolescents with suicidal behaviors are often cared for in emergency departments (EDs)/trauma centers and are at an increased risk for subsequent suicide. Many institutions do not have standard procedures to prevent future self-harm. Lethal means restriction (LMR) counseling is an evidence-based suicide prevention strategy that informs families to restrict access to potentially fatal items and has demonstrated efficacy in preventing suicide. The objectives of this study were to examine suicidal behavior among behavioral health patients in a pediatric ED and to assess the use of LMR by hospital staff.

METHODS: A sample of 298 pediatric patients was randomly selected from the population of behavioral health patients treated at the ED from January 1 through December 31, 2012 (n = 2,294). Descriptive data include demographics (age, sex, race/ethnicity, etc,), chief complaint, current and past psychiatric history, primary diagnosis, disposition, alcohol/drug abuse, and documentation of any LMR counseling provided in the ED.

RESULTS: Of the 298 patients, 52% were female, 47% were white, and 76% were in the custody of their parents. Behavior/out of control was the most common chief complaint (43%). The most common diagnoses were mood disorder (25%) and depression (20%). Thirty-four percent of the patients had suicidal ideation, 22% had a suicide plan, 32% had documented suicidal behavior, and 25% of the patients reported having access to lethal means. However, only 4% of the total patient population received any LMR counseling, and only 15% of those with access to lethal means had received LMR counseling.

CONCLUSION: Providing a safe environment for adolescents at risk for suicidal behaviors should be a priority for all families/caretakers and should be encouraged by health care providers. The ED is a key point of entry into services for suicidal youth and presents an opportunity to implement effective secondary prevention strategies. The low rate of LMR counseling found in this study suggests a need for improved LMR counseling for all at-risk youth.


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