Suicide Attempt History and Risk Assessment

October 20, 2016

News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark Research

Forty percent of college students who reported a suicide attempt on a single-item survey were found not to have attempted suicide based on subsequent multi-item surveys and face-to-face interviews. The authors of the study suggested that using a single question to assess a history of attempts may result in inappropriate care, but that it may be valuable in identifying individuals at risk for suicide, given that all of the students who incorrectly reported an attempt were found to have histories of non-suicidal self-injury and/or suicidal ideation.

The single-item measure used to identify attempts was “Have you ever attempted suicide, where you attempted to kill yourself?” Forty percent of the students who answered “yes” did not qualify for an attempt based on information gathered in subsequent multi-item self-report questionnaires or face-to-face clinical interviews that asked more specific questions, such as the method used for each attempt. The authors suggested that although the single-item assessment of suicide attempts may be useful for identifying people at risk for suicide, the inaccuracy of the answers demonstrates the importance of using follow-up questions to appropriately assess and treat suicide risk, as well as to improve the accuracy of research on suicidal behavior.

Hom, M. A., Joiner, T. E., & Bernert, R. A. (2015). Limitations of a single-item assessment of suicide attempt history: Implications for standardized suicide risk assessment. Psychological Assessment28(8), 1026–1030.