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Hopkins researchers say tool used to treat youth can accurately gauge suicide risk

Posted at 12:02 PM, Oct 31, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-31 12:02:32-04

BALTIMORE (WMAR) — Researchers at Johns Hopkins think a tool used in their emergency pediatric department can accurately screen a child's suicide risk.

The tool, is known as the Ask Suicide-Screening Questions (ASQ).

Four items are on the screening, and it takes approximately two-minutes to complete.

It was implemented in 2013 for patients between the ages of 8 and 18 who came to the emergency department with behavioral or psychiatric problems.

In 2017, all other kids between10 and 18-years-old being treated for other medical issues, began getting screened by emergency department staff.

According to Holly C. Wilcox, PhD, one of the senior researchers, it was unknown that the questionnaire would have the ability to accurately gauge suicide risk in pediatric patients being treated for things other than mental health.

The question then became, how many more at-risk patients the screening would identify aside from those who disclosed suicidal thoughts, and didn't come to the emergency department for treatment.

To answer those questions, Wilcox and her colleagues collected electronic health records of the 15,003 patients who received the questionnaire since its implementation.

The team counted how many patients had independently reported suicidal thoughts compared to how many had a positive ASQ score, a factor that had suggested a higher suicide risk in other studies.

Researchers looked for differences in positive scores between patients being treated for mental health and those with other health problems.

From March 2013 to December 2018 -- 4,666 pediatric patients with mental or behavioral health problems were given the ASQ, while 10,337 patients with other issues were screened after 2017.

Research found there were 275 subsequent suicide-related visits and three suicide-related deaths among patients visiting the pediatric emergency department for mental health, and 118 subsequent suicide-related visits and no deaths in patients complaining of other health issues.

According to a Johns Hopkins release, the researcher's analysis showed that these patient's ASQ scores accurately predicted the outcomes.

Results showed that 1,435 patients seeking mental health treatment screened positive as opposed to 806 who screened positive when being treated for something not related to mental health.

Wilcox says, 1,229 of 2,241 patients who tested positive, did not admit thoughts of suicide to emergency staff, a risk that without the screening may have gone undetected.

The study concluded that males and African Americans were disproportionately found to have a higher risk of suicide.

To find more information on suicide prevention in Maryland, click here.