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Concerns have been raised about the utility of self-report assessments in predicting future suicide attempts. Clinicians in pediatric emergency departments (EDs) often are required to assess suicidal risk. The Death Implicit Association Test (IAT) is an alternative to self-report assessment of suicidal risk that may have utility in ED settings.
A total of 1679 adolescents recruited from 13 pediatric emergency rooms in the Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network were assessed using a self-report survey of risk and protective factors for a suicide attempt, and the IAT, and then followed up 3 months later to determine if an attempt had occurred. The accuracy of prediction was compared between self-reports and the IAT using the area under the curve (AUC) with respect to receiver operator characteristics.
A few self-report variables, namely, current and past suicide ideation, past suicidal behavior, total negative life events, and school or social connectedness, predicted an attempt at 3 months with an AUC of 0.87 [95% confidence interval (CI), 0.84–0.90] in the entire sample, and AUC = 0.91, (95% CI 0.85–0.95) for those who presented without reported suicidal ideation. The IAT did not add significantly to the predictive power of selected self-report variables. The IAT alone was modestly predictive of 3-month attempts in the overall sample ((AUC = 0.59, 95% CI 0.52–0.65) and was a better predictor in patients who were non-suicidal at baseline (AUC = 0.67, 95% CI 0.55–0.79).
In pediatric EDs, a small set of self-reported items predicted suicide attempts within 3 months more accurately than did the IAT.
Clinical assessments are a primary method for ascertaining suicide risk, yet the language used across measures is inconsistent. The implications of these discrepancies for adolescent responding are unknown, which is troubling as multiple research areas (i.e. on culture, mental health language, and suicide communication) indicate individuals from varying sociodemographic backgrounds may communicate differently regarding mental health concerns. The aims of the current study are to investigate whether a geographically diverse sample of adolescents respond differently to directly and indirectly phrased suicide attempt questions (i.e. directly phrased includes the term ‘suicide’ and indirectly asks about suicidal behavior without using ‘suicide’), and to examine whether sociodemographic factors and history of mental health service usage relate to endorsement differences.
Participants were N = 5909 adolescents drawn from the Emergency Department Screening for Teens at Risk for Suicide multi-site study. The lifetime suicide attempt was assessed with two items from an adapted version of the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS; Posner et al., 2008): (1) a directly phrased question asking about ‘suicide attempts’ and (2) an indirectly phrased question providing the definition of an attempt.
An adolescent majority (83.7%) consistently reported no lifetime suicide attempt across items, 10.1% consistently reported one or more lifetime attempts across items, and 6.2% of adolescents responded discordantly to the items.
Multivariable models indicated multiple demographic and mental health service variables significantly predicted discordant responding, with a notable finding being that father/stepfather education level at or below high school education predicted endorsing only the direct question.
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