Suicidal ideation in primary care

J Gen Intern Med. 1996 Aug;11(8):447-53. doi: 10.1007/BF02599038.


Objective: To describe the prevalence and clinical characteristics of primary care patients who report suicidal ideation during the month before their medical visit.

Design: Analysis of a self-administered suicidal ideation screening item using sociodemographic data, treatment history, and clinical data from structured interviews.

Setting: Three Rhode Island private family practices, a South Carolina family medicine residency, and a California prepaid internal medicine group practice.

Patients: Adult primary care patients (N = 2,749), 18 to 70 years old, who are able to read and write English, able to complete study forms, and willing to provide informed consent.

Results: Sixty-seven (2.44%) of the patients reported suicidal ideation ("feeling suicidal") during the past month, and most of those patients (58.2%) received no mental health care during that time. The adjusted risk of suicidal ideation was significantly elevated for patients with self-reported fair or poor physical health (odds ratio [OR] 2.5; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.5, 4.1), fair to poor emotional health (OR 18.0; 95% CI 8.8, 37.0), marital distress (OR 4.4; 95% CI 2.2, 8.8), and recent mental health-related work loss (OR 6.3; 95% CI 3.7, 10.5). In the California sample, patients with major depression (R 31.2; 95% CI 12.8, 76.1). generalized anxiety disorder (OR 23.4; 95% CI 8.1, 67.1), and drug abuse or dependence (OR 9.6; 95% CI 2.9, 31.6) were at increased risk of suicidal ideation. The "feeling suicidal" item identified 10 of 12 patients who acknowledged a recent plan to kill themselves.

Conclusions: In these primary care patients, suicidal ideation is strongly associated with mental disorder and mental health-related functional impairment, and can be detected with a single self-report "feeling suicidal" item.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Confidence Intervals
  • Data Collection
  • Depressive Disorder / complications*
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Primary Health Care* / trends
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Suicide / psychology*
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data