In Brief

Researchers identify eight critical risk factors for suicide in patients with major depression, in a study published in the December issue of Professional Psychology: Research and Practice (Vol. 30, No. 6, p. 576-580).

In a survey sent randomly to 500 practicing psychologists, the researchers presented participants with 48 risk factors derived from previous studies involving suicide and depression. Based on their clinical experience, the practitioners rated each factor on a nine-point Likert-type scale with 1 being "unimportant" and 9 being "critical." They considered the following factors most important:

  • The medical seriousness of previous attempts.
  • History of suicide attempts.
  • Acute suicidal ideation.
  • Severe hopelessness.
  • Attraction to death.
  • Family history of suicide.
  • Acute overuse of alcohol.
  • Loss/separations.

The other 40 factors received ratings of "moderate risk."

Suicide is among the most common clinical emergency psychologists deal with, according to the authors, Nico Peruzzi, PhD, of MyPsych.com, a division of Hemisphere Healthcare, and Bruce Bongar, PhD, of the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology and Stanford University School of Medicine.

Recent studies indicate that the average practicing psychologist may treat up to five suicidal patients per month, and as many as one-third of those psychologists have lost a patient to suicide. Recognizing risk factors for suicide is the first step toward prevention.

"Psychologists should be aware of empirically supported risk factors and incorporate those risk factors into assessments they feel comfortable with, and that work in treatment," says Peruzzi. "They should also keep in mind that suicide risk assessment is not static, and a treatment plan should be updated with the most current information available."

--L. MATTAS-CURRY