(NEW YORK) -- A short suicide questionnaire used millions of times by jails, schools, hospitals, police and defense forces worldwide not only identifies suicidal thoughts and behavior, but also helps predict which people are likely to try ending their lives, researchers announced.
The Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) asks a series of direct questions, beginning with: "Have you wished you were dead or wished you could go to sleep and not wake up?" followed by, "Have you actually had any thoughts of killing yourself?" The survey then allows suicidal thoughts to be ranked on a 5-point scale, ranging from 1, the wish to die; through 5, having a plan and intent to commit suicide.
Researchers put the tool to the test in three groups of people vulnerable to suicide: 124 teenage suicide attempters in a treatment study; 312 depressed teens in a medication study; and 237 adults who visited hospital emergency rooms for psychiatric reasons, following patients for a year after they filled out the questionaire. The results were analyzed by the tool's developers from Columbia University along with colleagues from several other institutions, who released their findings online Wednesday in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
The study's lead author, Kelly Posner, director of Columbia's suicide risk assessment program, said the idea behind the questionnaire was to improve suicide prevention by more precisely identifying those youngsters and adults at risk of ending their lives before they can carry out their plans.
"What this paper has done is give us prediction, which is a national priority for prevention," Posner told ABC News. Study participants who had "worrisome answers" to the questions "were 50 percent more likely to attempt suicide," during the year they were followed, she said.
The suicide questionnaire assesses more than just whether someone had attempted suicide.
"In the past, people would only ask about a suicide attempt," Posner said. "You would miss the person who bought the gun yesterday or put the noose around their neck, (or the person) collecting or buying pills, writing a will or suicide note."
By more precisely identifying a range of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, the tool is finding "the people at risk we would have missed before," Posner said. All of that information "tells you something about the level of severity of risk."
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