Depression screening outperforms suicide risk screening, study finds

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A recent study led by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and Wesleyan University found that depression screening methods are more effective than suicide risk screenings in identifying primary care patients who later attempt suicide.

The research contradicts long-standing assumptions about suicide risk screening and its effectiveness.

The study compared various depression screening methods (PHQ-2, PHQ-8, and PHQ-9) with multiple suicide risk screening methods among 2,475 military primary care patients.

Follow-up interviews were conducted for a year to assess the occurrence of suicide attempts.

The study found that depression screening with the PHQ-9 was more accurate in identifying patients who attempted suicide than the PHQ-2.

Key Findings:

More than 65% of patients who screened positive for suicidal ideation also tested positive for depression.

0.2% of patients attempted suicide within one month, 0.6% within three months, 1.4% within six months, and 2.1% within a year of the baseline.

The study focused only on depression as an indication for suicide risk, thus not accounting for other potential indicators like substance use disorders, postpartum depression, and other psychiatric conditions.

Additionally, the study was conducted within the military medical system, which may limit its generalizability.

The findings could prompt a reevaluation of suicide risk screening methods and lead to a greater focus on depression screenings in primary care settings, especially since primary care providers often see patients at risk of suicide more frequently than mental health clinics do.


The study provides compelling evidence that depression screening is more effective than suicide risk screening in identifying patients who are at risk of attempting suicide.

However, further research is needed to examine the benefits of depression and suicide risk screening among different patient subgroups and health care systems.

Craig J. Bryan, the study’s principal investigator, and Alexis M. May, co-author, urge caution in drawing conclusions and recommend additional research to further explore these findings.

If you care about depression, please read studies about how dairy foods may influence depression risk, and B vitamins could help prevent depression and anxiety.

For more information about mental health, please see recent studies that ultra-processed foods may make you feel depressed, and extra-virgin olive oil could reduce depression symptoms.

The research findings can be found in The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety.

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