Linking Youth to Mental Health Services

October 11, 2012

News Type:  Weekly Spark Research

The National Strategy for Suicide Prevention calls for increasing the percentage of patients who receive mental health care following emergency department (ED) treatment for a suicide attempt. A recent randomized controlled trial found that a brief family therapy session in the ED, combined with follow-up telephone calls, increased the proportion of young people who received mental health care after a suicide-related ED visit. Unfortunately, neither the intervention nor follow-up mental health care reduced the rate of subsequent suicide attempts, ideation, or related clinical problems (e.g. severe depression). The authors of an article on this research argue that their results demonstrate “the importance of developing effective outpatient mental health treatments and services.”

The research evaluated the effect of Family Intervention for Suicide Prevention, which uses a family therapy session conducted during the emergency department visit to emphasize the importance of obtaining follow-up mental health treatment, restricting access to dangerous attempt methods, and developing a safety plan. The intervention (which was adapted from an intervention included in the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices) included follow-up telephone contacts to promote and support outpatient treatment.

Patients who received these services were significantly more likely to attend outpatient treatment than patients who received the usual care enhanced by a training session for ED staff on “the importance of linking suicidal patients to outpatient mental health treatment, restricting their access to dangerous or lethal attempt methods, and the increased risk associated with substance use.”  The authors pointed out that a limitation of the intervention may be the cost of hiring therapists in the absence of a research grant.

Asarnow, J. R., Baraff, L. J., Berk, M., Grob, C. S., Devich-Navarro, M., Suddath, R.,…Tang L. (2011). An emergency department intervention for linking pediatric suicidal patients to follow-up mental health treatment. Psychiatric Services, 62(11), 1303-1309.