Suicide Prevention

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News August 2015

In an effort to prevent suicide, a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) study may have found a way to identify at-risk veterans thanks to a study with the National Institute of Mental Health.

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Using the Veterans Health Administration health system electronic medical record data, John McCarthy, PhD, MPH, director of the Serious Mental Illness Treatment Resource and Evaluation Center in the VA Office of Mental Health Operations and colleagues developed a suicide-risk algorithm based on data from clinical encounters from 2009–11. They split the data in half and used the first half to develop the predictive model and the second half to test it by comparing predicted suicide risk to actual mortality.

The study found that the algorithm was able to find more at-risk veterans than what was found clinically. Even in groups with the highest predicted suicide risk based on the model, less than one-third of patients had been identified clinically.

“This model will advance the care provided to veterans through VA’s suicide prevention programs to allow us to better tailor our suicide prevention efforts so that we can ensure that all veterans remain safe,” says Dr. Caitlin Thompson, Deputy Director for Suicide Prevention for the VA.

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