Importance: Suicidal behavior is a major public health problem in the United States. The suicide rate has steadily increased over the past 2 decades; middle-aged men and military veterans are at particularly high risk. There is a dearth of empirically supported brief intervention strategies to address this problem in health care settings generally and particularly in emergency departments (EDs), where many suicidal patients present for care.
Objective: To determine whether the Safety Planning Intervention (SPI), administered in EDs with follow-up contact for suicidal patients, was associated with reduced suicidal behavior and improved outpatient treatment engagement in the 6 months following discharge, an established high-risk period.
Design, setting, and participants: Cohort comparison design with 6-month follow-up at 9 EDs (5 intervention sites and 4 control sites) in Veterans Health Administration hospital EDs. Patients were eligible for the study if they were 18 years or older, had an ED visit for a suicide-related concern, had inpatient hospitalization not clinically indicated, and were able to read English. Data were collected between 2010 and 2015; data were analyzed between 2016 and 2018.
Interventions: The intervention combines SPI and telephone follow-up. The SPI was defined as a brief clinical intervention that combined evidence-based strategies to reduce suicidal behavior through a prioritized list of coping skills and strategies. In telephone follow-up, patients were contacted at least 2 times to monitor suicide risk, review and revise the SPI, and support treatment engagement.
Main outcomes and measures: Suicidal behavior and behavioral health outpatient services extracted from medical records for 6 months following ED discharge.
Results: Of the 1640 total patients, 1186 were in the intervention group and 454 were in the comparison group. Patients in the intervention group had a mean (SD) age of 47.15 (14.89) years and 88.5% were men (n = 1050); patients in the comparison group had a mean (SD) age of 49.38 (14.47) years and 88.1% were men (n = 400). Patients in the SPI+ condition were less likely to engage in suicidal behavior (n = 36 of 1186; 3.03%) than those receiving usual care (n = 24 of 454; 5.29%) during the 6-month follow-up period. The SPI+ was associated with 45% fewer suicidal behaviors, approximately halving the odds of suicidal behavior over 6 months (odds ratio, 0.56; 95% CI, 0.33-0.95, P = .03). Intervention patients had more than double the odds of attending at least 1 outpatient mental health visit (odds ratio, 2.06; 95% CI, 1.57-2.71; P < .001).
Conclusions and relevance: This large-scale cohort comparison study found that SPI+ was associated with a reduction in suicidal behavior and increased treatment engagement among suicidal patients following ED discharge and may be a valuable clinical tool in health care settings.