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Am J Prev Med. 2014 Sep;47(3 Suppl 2):S176-80. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2014.06.004.

Improving the short-term prediction of suicidal behavior.

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Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Electronic address:
Department of Psychology, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Aspirational Goal 3 of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention's Research Prioritization Task Force is to predict who is at risk for attempting suicide in the near future. Despite decades of research devoted to the study of risk and protective factors for suicide and suicidal behavior, surprisingly little is known about the short-term prediction of these behaviors. In this paper, we propose several questions that, if answered, could improve the identification of short-term, or imminent, risk for suicidal behavior. First, what factors predict the transition from suicidal thoughts to attempts? Second, what factors are particularly strong predictors of making this transition over the next hours, days, or weeks? Third, what are the most important objective markers of short-term risk for suicidal behavior? And fourth, what method of combining information about risk and protective factors yields the best prediction? We propose that the next generation of research on the assessment and prediction of suicidal behavior should shift, from cross-sectional studies of bivariate risk and protective factors, to prospective studies aimed at identifying multivariate, short-term prediction indices, examining methods of synthesizing this information, and testing the ability to predict and prevent suicidal events.

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