Suicidal ideation and risk levels among primary care patients with uncomplicated depression

Ann Fam Med. 2005 Nov-Dec;3(6):523-8. doi: 10.1370/afm.377.


Purpose: We investigated the prevalence, severity, and course of passive and active suicidal ideation occurring in primary care patients with an uncomplicated depressive disorder.

Methods: We studied suicidal ideation experienced by patients recruited in 60 primary care practices participating in a randomized controlled trial of depression management. Risk levels associated with suicidal ideation and plans were determined by a 2-stage procedure using pertinent items of the Patient Health Questionnaire-9, the Hopkins Symptom Checklist-20, and the Cornell structured assessment interview and management algorithm.

Results: Of the 761 patients whom physicians judged in need of treatment for a clinical depression, 405 (53%) were experiencing uncomplicated dysthymia, major depression, or both. Among these depressed patients, about 90% had no risk or a low risk of self-harm based on the presence and nature of suicidal ideation; the rest had an intermediate risk. Almost all patients who were initially classified at the no or low risk levels remained at these levels during the subsequent 6 months. The incidence of suicidal ideation at a risk level requiring the physician's immediate attention in this no- or low-risk subgroup was 1.1% at 3 months and 2.6% at 6 months.

Conclusions: Almost all patients with uncomplicated dysthymia, major depression, or both acknowledging suicidal ideation of the minimal risk type when initially assessed maintained this minimal risk status during the subsequent 6 months.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Depressive Disorder / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Suicide / psychology*