Using data from the Continuous Morbidity Registration Sentinel Stations over the period 1979-1986, the authors tried to determine the incidence and the characteristics of patients in general practice who attempted or committed suicide. Almost half of the suicide attempts and suicides had contacted their general practitioner (GP) shortly before the suicidal act. A minority of these cases were recognized by the GP as having a high suicide risk. In almost 70% of the suicides and 58% of the suicide attempters the GPs reported the existence, currently or previously, of a depressive episode. About half of both the suicides and the suicide attempters had been treated or seen by mental health professionals or social workers. Given the fact that suicide and suicide attempt are relatively rare events in general practice, and given the fact that for the patients who contact their GP shortly before the suicidal act, it is not at all certain whether they present clearly recognizable signs of suicide risk at that time, the authors conclude that GPs cannot play an important role in the prevention of suicidal behaviour.