Risk assessment and suicide prevention in primary care
Ferguson, Brian G.
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General practitioners (GPs) are assumed to occupy an important position in the prevention of suicide through the introduction of risk assessment techniques commonly used in psychiatric practice. Despite this theoretical role for primary care services, it remains unclear how frequently GPs implement risk assessment in patients who may be vulnerable to suicide. To address this, a retrospective survey of probable suicides was conducted within a primary care setting utilizing a questionnaire of GPs who had experienced a patient suicide and was augmented by hospital and coroners' records. 85% of questionnaires were returned and 61 deaths were adjudged as suicides during the year long census period. 75% of suicides were male and 54% were aged under 35.28% were in contact with psychiatric services prior to death, although 60% had some diagnosis of mental disorder. GPs had little knowledge of a patient's life circumstances in up to half of cases. Recording of risk assessment occurred in 38% of subjects, was positively associated with prior psychiatric contact (p = 0.001) but negatively associated with presence of physical illness (p = 0.004), older patient age (p = 0.04), and GPs length in practice (p = 0.05). One GP felt their suicide case was preventable. The low rate of risk assessment and limited knowledge of patient lifestyle point to the need for active engagement of GPs in future suicide prevention strategies and should influence the content of training programs in primary care.