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NIH Record - 75th Anniversary - National Institutes of Health

Computerized Screener Helps Detect Youth Suicide Risk

A young man sits, head in hands, at end of row of yellow chairs in hospital.

A teen suffering from depression waits to be evaluated at a hospital.

Photo: Jsmith/iStock/Getty

Researchers have developed a computerized adaptive screener to identify youth at risk for attempting suicide. In a new study, the computerized adaptive screen for suicidal youth (CASSY) correctly identified 82.4 percent of youth who went on to attempt suicide in the 3 months after screening. The findings from this NIMH-funded study appear in JAMA Psychiatry.

Suicide rates for adolescents have risen over the past two decades. Some 40 percent of adolescents who die by suicide have been treated for a mental health concern, often at an emergency department (ED).

Given the time and budgetary constraints of many EDs, a screener that can quickly and accurately identify suicide risk could be especially useful in these settings.

The CASSY goes beyond a typical questionnaire by using a person’s initial responses to help vary and personalize the later questions, adapting to each person who takes it. This allows hospitals to alter the sensitivity and specificity of the screen and then target mental health follow-up and resources where most needed.

The study, led by Dr. Cheryl King, a psychiatry professor at the University of Michigan, was a collaboration with 13 EDs within the U.S. Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network and one Indian Health Service ED. 

Youth admitted to an emergency department at the study sites answered about 11 questions about suicide ideation; history of suicide attempts; self-injury; depression; hopelessness; alcohol and drug misuse; abuse; family, school and social connectedness. Researchers then followed up with the families 3 months later.

“No young person should die by suicide, which is why we have made bending the curve in suicide rates a priority area of research for our institute,” said NIMH director Dr. Joshua Gordon. “The CASSY screener represents an important advance in identifying those adolescents who are at risk for suicide, so they can be connected with the critical support services they need.”

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