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Psychiatr Serv. 2018 Nov 20:appips201800342. doi: 10.1176/ [Epub ahead of print]

Understanding Why Patients May Not Report Suicidal Ideation at a Health Care Visit Prior to a Suicide Attempt: A Qualitative Study.

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Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, Seattle (Richards, Ludman, Pabiniak, Kirlin, Simon); Department of Health Services, University of Washington, Seattle (Richards);, Seattle (Whiteside, Hidalgo); Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle (Whiteside); School of Law, University of California, Berkeley (Hidalgo).



The authors sought to understand why patients may not report suicidal ideation at a health care visit prior to a suicide attempt.


Electronic health record data from Kaiser Permanente Washington were used to identify patients who reported having no suicidal ideation on question 9 of the nine-item Patient Health Questionnaire and who subsequently made a suicide attempt (≤60 days). Semistructured interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed, and analyzed by using a combination of directed (deductive) and conventional (inductive) content analysis to validate and further explore reasons why patients may not report suicidal ideation prior to a suicide attempt.


Of 42 adults sampled, 26 agreed to be interviewed, of whom about half were women (N=15) and a majority was white (N=20), with ages ranging from 18 to 63. Key themes were that patients who attempted suicide after having reported no thoughts of self-harm were either not experiencing suicidal ideation at the time of screening or feared the outcome of disclosure, including stigma, overreaction, and loss of autonomy. An additional theme that emerged from the interviews included reports of heavy episodic drinking at the time of the suicide attempt, particularly when suicide was completely unplanned. Patients also identified important aspects of interactions with health care system providers that may facilitate disclosure about suicidal ideation.


Nonjudgmental listening and expressions of caring without overreaction among providers may help patients overcome fear of reporting suicidal ideation. Screening for heavy episodic drinking may help identify individuals who make unplanned suicide attempts.


Alcohol/alcoholism; Scales/outcome and clinical measurement; Suicide and self-destructive behavior


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