Percentage of patient visits for those patients aged 6 through 17 years with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder with an assessment for suicide risk
Research has shown that youth with major depressive disorder are at a high risk for suicide attempts and completion - among the most significant and devastating sequelae of the disease (Fontanella et al., 2020). Suicide risk is a critical consideration in children and adolescents with MDD and an important aspect of care that should be assessed at each visit and subsequently managed to minimize that risk. Additionally, the importance of the assessments is underscored by research (Fontanella et al., 2020; Luoma, Martin, & Pearson, 2002) that indicates that many individuals who die by suicide do make contact with primary care providers and mental health services beforehand. More specifically, approximately 15% of suicide victims aged 35 years or younger had seen a mental health professional within 1 month of suicide while approximately 23% had seen a primary care provider within 1 month of suicide (Luoma, Martin, & Pearson, 2002). Better assessment and identification of suicide risk in the health care setting should lead to improved connection to treatment and reduction in suicide attempts and deaths by suicide.
Clinical Recommendation Statements
The evaluation must include assessment for the presence of harm to self or others (MS) (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2007).
Suicidal behavior exists along a continuum from passive thoughts of death to a clearly developed plan and intent to carry out that plan. Because depression is closely associated with suicidal thoughts and behavior, it is imperative to evaluate these symptoms at the initial and subsequent assessments. For this purpose, low burden tools to track suicidal ideation and behavior such as the Columbia-Suicidal Severity Rating Scale can be used. Also, it is crucial to evaluate the risk (e.g., age, sex, stressors, comorbid conditions, hopelessness, impulsivity) and protective factors (e.g., religious belief, concern not to hurt family) that might influence the desire to attempt suicide. The risk for suicidal behavior increases if there is a history of suicide attempts, comorbid psychiatric disorders (e.g., disruptive disorders, substance abuse), impulsivity and aggression, availability of lethal agents (e.g., firearms), exposure to negative events (e.g., physical or sexual abuse, violence), and a family history of suicidal behavior (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2007).
A careful and ongoing evaluation of suicide risk is necessary for all patients with major depressive disorder (Category I). Such an assessment includes specific inquiry about suicidal thoughts, intent, plans, means, and behaviors; identification of specific psychiatric symptoms (e.g., psychosis, severe anxiety, substance use) or general medical conditions that may increase the likelihood of acting on suicidal ideas; assessment of past and, particularly, recent suicidal behavior; delineation of current stressors and potential protective factors (e.g., positive reasons for living, strong social support); and identification of any family history of suicide or mental illness (Category I) (American Psychiatric Association, 2010, reaffirmed 2015).