Background: In 2009, suicide accounted for 36 897 deaths in the United States.
Purpose: To review the accuracy of screening instruments and the efficacy and safety of screening for and treatment of suicide risk in populations and settings relevant to primary care.
Data sources: Citations from MEDLINE, PsycINFO, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, and CINAHL (2002 to 17 July 2012); gray literature; and a surveillance search of MEDLINE for additional screening trials (July to December 2012).
Study selection: Fair- or good-quality English-language studies that assessed the accuracy of screening instruments in primary care or similar populations and trials of suicide prevention interventions in primary or mental health care settings.
Data extraction: One investigator abstracted data; a second checked the abstraction. Two investigators rated study quality.
Data synthesis: Evidence was insufficient to determine the benefits of screening in primary care populations; very limited evidence identified no serious harms. Minimal evidence suggested that screening tools can identify some adults at increased risk for suicide in primary care, but accuracy was lower in studies of older adults. Minimal evidence limited to high-risk populations suggested poor performance of screening instruments in adolescents. Trial evidence showed that psychotherapy reduced suicide attempts in high-risk adults but not adolescents. Most trials were insufficiently powered to detect effects on deaths.
Limitation: Treatment evidence was derived from high-risk rather than screening-detected populations. Evidence relevant to adolescents, older adults, and racial or ethnic minorities was limited.
Conclusion: Primary care-feasible screening tools might help to identify some adults at increased risk for suicide but have limited ability to detect suicide risk in adolescents. Psychotherapy may reduce suicide attempts in some high-risk adults, but effective interventions for high-risk adolescents are not yet proven.
Primary funding source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.