Objective: Suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents. Many suicidal youths treated in emergency departments do not receive follow-up treatment as advocated by the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention. Two strategies for improving rates of follow-up treatment were compared.
Methods: In a randomized controlled trial, suicidal youths at two emergency departments (N=181; ages ten to 18) were individually assigned between April 2003 and August 2005 to one of two conditions: an enhanced mental health intervention involving a family-based cognitive-behavioral therapy session designed to increase motivation for follow-up treatment and safety, supplemented by care linkage telephone contacts after emergency department discharge, or usual emergency department care enhanced by provider education. Assessments were conducted at baseline and approximately two months after discharge from the emergency department or hospital. The primary outcome measure was rates of outpatient mental health treatment after discharge.
Results: Intervention patients were significantly more likely than usual care patients to attend outpatient treatment (92% versus 76%; p=.004). The intervention group also had significantly higher rates of psychotherapy (76% versus 49%; p=.001), combined psychotherapy and medication (58% versus 37%; p=.003), and psychotherapy visits (mean 5.3 versus 3.1; p=.003). Neither the emergency department intervention nor community outpatient treatment (in exploratory analyses) was significantly associated with improved clinical or functioning outcomes.
Conclusions: Results support efficacy of the enhanced emergency department intervention for improving linkage to outpatient mental health treatment but underscore the need for improved community outpatient treatment to prevent suicide, suicide attempts, and poor clinical and functioning outcomes for suicidal youths treated in emergency departments.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00558805.