Duke developing screening tool to spot people at risk for suicide

Local News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Duke Health researchers say a tool they created to screen patients for suicide risk is more accurate than methods currently being used.

Their study, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, outlines a streamlined 23-point checklist that focuses on established red flags for future suicide attempts — including previously attempting or considering suicide, psychiatric hospitalizations, substance use disorders and self-injuries that are not suicidal.


“We set out to develop a suicide attempt risk checklist that could help practitioners reliably discriminate high-risk patients from low-risk patients,” said Nathan Kimbrel, an associate professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke’s school of medicine and the study’s lead author.

The Durham Risk Score was developed with data from more than 35,000 participants in three national studies.

Each question on the checklist is assigned a score and they say adding it up is easy enough for professionals in a wide range of settings to figure it out.

“If the surveys are long and difficult to score, it’s not all that useful in a clinical setting, so physicians often rely on their best judgment,” Kimbrel said.

“Statistical models and machine learning models are much more accurate in making these assessments, but they typically require that patients have been seen at a facility previously and already have information logged in electronic health records,” he said.

The score allows professionals to rank patients according to risk level. The study found 82 percent of suicide attempts took place among people whose DRS scores ranked in the top 15 percent, with a quarter of suicide attempts occurring among the top 1 percent.

September is Suicide Prevention Month. If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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