Predicting suicide attempts has long been a challenge for psychologists, but you recently collaborated with researchers at several universities and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on a suicide attempt risk checklist to help clinicians identify individuals who may be at a higher risk of suicide. Can you tell us more about the development of the checklist?
Predicting when someone will attempt suicide is one of the most high-stakes jobs of a health care provider, but notoriously challenging to do. Unfortunately, data suggest that clinicians’ ability to predict suicide attempts is not consistently more accurate than structured assessments, and some of the most widely used assessments predict no better than chance. This is deeply concerning for all people at risk for suicide, but particularly in the context of the latest VA data indicating that 17 veterans die by suicide every day.
Our collaborative research group was inspired to come together in order to address these challenges among veterans. We shared our data across three studies totaling over 35,000 participants to develop and validate the Durham Risk Score (DRS). The DRS was a strong predictor of future attempts, with 82% of prospective suicide attempts occurring among those who had DRS scores in the top 15%. These preliminary findings suggest that the DRS could enhance clinicians’ ability to predict future suicide attempts, and correspondingly, guide them to put a safety plan in place when a veteran scores in a particular range—even if they aren’t acutely suicidal.
Predicting who will attempt suicide