Rating Scale May Save Lives

Psychiatry to predict risk of suicide

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Eerily similar to the concept of CBS' hit series Person of Interest, where an ex-CIA agent uses science to identify crimes before they happen, a new study suggests the use of science and psychiatry to identify one particular self-inflicted crime.

Although this tool involves more legwork for diagnosis, a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry confirms the tool's ability to predict future suicide attempts in patients. 

"Ask your therapist about predictive models. "

This study highlights the Center for Suicide Risk Assessment and Columbia University's Department of Psychiatry, which developed the tool, naming it the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS).  C-SSRS both assesses suicidal behavior and predicts future attempts.  

Kelly Posner, director of the Center for Suicide Risk Assessment and associate clinical professor of medical psychology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, is determined to save lives. "We know that 50% of people who die by suicide see their primary care doctor the month before," Posner states.

Before Columbia's scale was created, no diagnostic assessments existed to identify suicidal risk.  Medical health practicioners felt strongly regarding this inadequacy and in 2002 the Institute of Medicine publicly stated that a lack of definitions and analytical standardization presented major obstacles in suicide prevention.  This prompted the FDA to seek Columbia's help.  

The study, involving three sites specializing in the treatment of adolescents and adults who had been admitted to the ER in the past for suicide attempts, helped researchers to understand communication similarities in victims.

Posner notes,  "When people give you certain answers about what they've been thinking, like they might intend to act on their thoughts or they have a specific plan and some intent, we know that that actually can predict ... who is going to go ahead and try to end their lives."

The chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and director of the New York State Psychiatric Institute, Jeffrey Lieberman, enthusiastically stands behind the findings, communicating its projected potential: "for the first time in as long as anyone can remember we may be actually able to make a dent in the rates of suicide that have existed and have remained constant over time, and that would be an enormous achievement in terms of public health care and preventing loss of life. " 

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
November 9, 2011
Last Updated:
November 11, 2011