Recent self-harm and psychological measures in the emergency department

PeerJ. 2014 Nov 11:2:e667. doi: 10.7717/peerj.667. eCollection 2014.


The assessment of self-harm risk is a common, difficult, and perplexing task for many physicians, especially those working in emergency departments (ED). Attempts have been made to determine objective methods for assessing patients with suicidal ideation or self-harm though there is still a lack of knowledge about objective assessments of these patients. A study was conducted where 181 suicidal patients were enrolled in two EDs within the city of Edmonton, Canada. Initial interviews were conducted in the ED which collected basic demographics and medical history as well as psychometric measures including the Beck Hopelessness Scale, Barratt Impulsiveness Scale, Brief Symptom Inventory, Drug Abuse Screening Test 10, and CAGE questionnaire. The results of these measures were compared between those who presented to the ED with self-harm and those who presented only with ideation. Those with recent self-harm scored lower on many of the scales and subscales of distress and impulsivity measured compared to those with no recent self-harm. Possible explanations for this difference include differences in psychological traits between the two groups and possible cathartic effects of self-harm. The lower scores obtained by those that present with self-harm may complicate attempts to use psychometric tools to determine future self-harm risk.

Keywords: Emergency medicine; Psychiatry; Risk assessment; Self-injurious behaviors.

Grants and funding

Funding for JR Randall was provided by Western Regional Training Center (WRTC), University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB. This research was supported, in part, by funding from the Canada Research Chair program for Drs. Colman and Rowe. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.