Predictive Importance of Social Contacts on U.S. Veteran Suicide Safety Plans

Psychiatr Serv. 2023 Mar 1;74(3):244-249. doi: 10.1176/ Epub 2022 Aug 30.


Objective: Safety planning is a suicide prevention intervention that relies partly on an individual's social relationships as distractions during or help in a suicidal crisis. The primary objectives of this study were to estimate rates of missingness on social aspects of safety plans to determine whether rates differ by demographic characteristics and diagnoses and to examine whether missing social contacts on safety plans may affect clinical outcomes.

Methods: Data were drawn from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System's electronic medical record (N=1,602 individuals) from 2018 to 2021. Safety plans were coded according to the absence of listed distraction or help contacts, and clinical records of suicide attempts, suicide deaths, and use of crisis services were recorded for 1 year after completion of the safety plan.

Results: In total, 30% of plans lacked a contact for distraction or help. Male veterans were less likely to have a distraction contact listed, and veterans identifying as Hispanic or Latino were more likely to have a help contact listed. The lack of a help contact (odds ratio [OR]=2.11) and having neither distraction nor help contacts (OR=2.45) were associated with a markedly higher risk for next-year suicide attempt or death. The lack of a help contact was associated with increased odds of a next-year psychiatric inpatient hospitalization (OR=1.90) and an emergency department visit (OR=1.88).

Conclusions: A lack of social contacts on safety plans may be a potential indicator for increased suicide risk among veterans.

Keywords: Emergency department; Psychiatric inpatient hospitalization; Safety planning; Suicide; Suicide attempt; Veterans’ issues.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Suicidal Ideation
  • Suicide Prevention
  • Suicide, Attempted / prevention & control
  • Suicide, Attempted / psychology
  • Veterans* / psychology