Despite some physicians’ reluctance to discuss suicide with depressed patients for fear it could foster feelings of completing or thinking about the act, a study published in the May issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry indicates that fear is unwarranted.

An initial survey found that 100 family practitioners didn’t like to ask patients about suicide because they felt doing so might make the patients feel worse. The researchers sought to determine if screening for suicidal ideation in patients with signs of depression increases the incidence of feelings that “life is not worth living” in the short term.

More than 440 patients with signs of depression were randomized to screening for suicidal ideation or questions about health and lifestyle. After waiting 2 weeks, the investigators asked patients whether they had, during the previous 2 weeks, felt that life was not worth living. Those who did were encouraged to discuss their feelings with healthcare staff and take advantage of available resources designed at helping such patients.

Among those who were randomized to initial screening compared with those who only underwent screening at 2 weeks, the adjusted odds of experiencing thoughts that life was not worth living at followup was 0.88. The team found that the number of patients who reported thoughts of suicide dropped from 22.3% at baseline to 14.6% at 2-week followup.

Although this was a relatively small study, it seems to indicate that physicians should not hesitate to screen patients for suicidal thoughts for fear it may encourage the act.

Physician’s Weekly wants to know…

  • Would you agree that asking about suicidal thoughts can help bring to light an issue for which patients can receive intervention?
  • Or, do you feel that the study is too small to suggest that avoiding the topic with depressed patients is unwarranted?