Universal Pediatric Suicide Risk Screening in a Health Care System: 90,000 Patient Encounters

Kimberly Roaten, Lisa M. Horowitz, Jeffrey A. Bridge, Christian R.R. Goans, Chris McKintosh, Russell Genzel, Celeste Johnson, Carol S. North

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Background: Suicidal behavior is increasing among US youths. Contact with the health care system is common in the months before suicide. Objective: To assess the characteristics of suicide risk among youths presenting for health care, universal screening results from a large hospital system were analyzed. Methods: A retrospective analysis of the Ask Suicide-Screening Questions tool administered to patients aged 10–17 years in a hospital system including an emergency department, inpatient medical units, and primary care clinics was conducted. Demographic and clinical data from 3 years of encounters were analyzed. Results: The sample consisted of 91,580 pediatric encounters, predominantly white Hispanic and women, with one third speaking Spanish. Across health care settings, 2.9% of encounters produced positive suicide risk screens, with the highest rate in the emergency department (8.5%). Acute positive screens, indicating imminent risk for suicidal behavior, accounted for 0.3% of all encounters. Approximately one-fourth (27.6%) of encounters for psychiatric presenting problems screened positive compared with 2.3% for nonpsychiatric encounters. Higher rates of positive screens were present among encounters for psychiatric presenting problems across all settings. Positive screens were less common among preteen (1.8%) than adolescent (3.1%) encounters (χ2 = 65.50, P < 0.001). Conclusions: Universal screening detected suicide risk in approximately 3% of pediatric health care encounters. Screening identified risk in encounters among preteen and adolescent patients, with a higher prevalence of positive screens in encounters for youths presenting with psychiatric problems and for emergency department visits. Acute positive screens were rare, occurring in less than half of 1 percent of encounters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)421-429
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the Academy of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2021


  • health care systems
  • hospital
  • risk
  • suicide
  • suicide risk screening
  • youth

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology


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