There aren’t many things more truly urgent than a child considering suicide. More adolescents kill themselves than die from cancer, heart disease, and many other causes combined, in fact. Now researchers at the University of Missouri‒Kansas City School of Medicine say a brief screening tool designed to detect suicidal risk was shown to be effective in a pediatric urgent care clinic. Considering previous studies showing that 17% of high school students had seriously considered suicide—and 8% had actually attempted suicide—over the previous 12-month period, and that many had no access to mental health services, the researchers hypothesized that at-risk patients could be identified by non–mental health clinicians with the help of a two-question screening tool. A total of 4,786 patients between the ages of 12 and 19 were screened, with 95 answering affirmatively to at least one of the following questions:
- In the past week, including today, have you felt like life is NOT worth living?
- In the past week, including today, have you wanted to kill yourself?
A positive response prompted further psychological evaluation by a social worker. It’s noteworthy that only 7% of the patients who gave a “yes” answer had a chief complaint related to mental health. The authors of the report, published in the Archives of Suicide Research, concluded that the screening tool can “adequately identify patients at risk of suicide without significantly interrupting the flow of the acute care setting.”