Comparison of the Safety Planning Intervention With Follow-up vs Usual Care of Suicidal Patients Treated in the Emergency Department

JAMA Psychiatry. 2018 Sep 1;75(9):894-900. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.1776.


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.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Aftercare* / methods
  • Aftercare* / statistics & numerical data
  • Ambulatory Care* / methods
  • Ambulatory Care* / statistics & numerical data
  • Cohort Studies
  • Emergency Service, Hospital / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic / methods
  • Interviews as Topic / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care
  • Psychotherapy, Brief* / methods
  • Psychotherapy, Brief* / statistics & numerical data
  • Suicidal Ideation*
  • Suicide* / prevention & control
  • Suicide* / psychology
  • Suicide* / statistics & numerical data
  • United States / epidemiology
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs / statistics & numerical data
  • Veterans / psychology