About 10 percent of those who die by suicide had been seen in an emergency room six weeks prior to their death, according to a new study. Researchers say this insight provides new opportunities for interventions.
A massive data set called “the national violent death reporting system” keeps track of all homicides and suicides in the country.
Psychologist Julie Cerel of the University of Kentucky took that information, then matched it to records of emergency rooms in Kentucky for the years 2008 to 2010.
That so many people had been seen in a hospital prior to their death speaks to missed opportunities, she said.
“It’s not feasible to screen every single person who comes into the emergency department, that’s not what I’m advocating,” she explained. “But to figure out who is the most risk for dying violently, and how can we detect that risk, and get people to services that would really save their lives.”
A lot of ER patients who went on to commit suicide had been treated for poisoning incidents, injuries and psychiatric illness. Cerel explained that poisoning is a very broad category that includes prescription drug overdoses and alcohol poisoning.
Even those admitted to a psychiatric hospital don’t typically receive care after their release, said Jonathan Singer, a suicide expert at Loyola University Chicago.
“Very few people who get discharged from inpatient end up following up with a mental health service provider,” he said, adding that barriers stand in the way.
“The provider doesn’t live where I live, doesn’t take my insurance, or maybe I met with them once, and I didn’t like the person,” he recited as typical responses.
One measure that’s proved effective is for mental health professionals to reach out to a person who’s been discharged within seven days and ask them what resources they need to get into care, Singer said.