Treatment engagement: a neglected aspect in the psychiatric care of suicidal patients

Psychiatr Serv. 2010 Dec;61(12):1183-91. doi: 10.1176/ps.2010.61.12.1183.


Objective: Suicide remains a serious health problem in the United States and worldwide. Despite changing distributions in sex, race-ethnicity, and age and considerable efforts to reduce the incidence rate, the number of suicides has remained relatively stable. The transition from emergency services to outpatient services is a crucial but often neglected step in treating suicidal individuals. Up to 50% of attempters refuse recommended treatment, and up to 60% drop out after only one session. This point of intervention is crucial for patients at elevated risk of suicide to reduce imminent danger and to increase the chances that patients will follow up on recommended treatment.

Methods: PubMed, MEDLINE, and PsycINFO databases were searched for empirical investigations of treatment engagement of suicide attempters. Keywords searched included treatment, intervention, engagement, adherence, compliance, utilization, participation, and suicide attempt. Mapped terms were also included. Thirteen articles were selected.

Results: Studies that have examined the effectiveness of postdischarge contact with suicide attempters (phone, letter, and in-person visits) to increase treatment adherence have found some immediate effects after substantial contact that were not sustained. Simple referrals to outpatient care were not effective. Family group interventions for adolescents have improved adherence, as have brief interventions in the emergency department.

Conclusions: Despite greater public awareness of suicide, heightened prevention effort, and increased efficacy of treatment interventions, success in reducing suicidal behavior has been limited. Developing brief interventions for use in emergency settings that can reduce suicide risk and enhance treatment follow-up has been a neglected aspect of suicide prevention and may help to reduce suicidal behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Patient Participation / psychology*
  • Suicidal Ideation*
  • Suicide, Attempted