Suicide Experts Linking Mnemonic to Prevention

By Jancin, Bruce | Clinical Psychiatry News, June 2006 | Go to article overview

Suicide Experts Linking Mnemonic to Prevention


Jancin, Bruce, Clinical Psychiatry News


SEATTLE -- An American Association of Suicidology expert consensus panel has developed the first evidence-based list of warning signs for suicide--and fashioned a mnemonic designed to help get out the message.

The mnemonic, which AAS officials hope to disseminate widely as an easy aid to addiction specialists, emergency medicine specialists, primary care physicians, and the general public in identifying individuals who are at heightened suicide risk, is the following: IS PATH WARM?

This mnemonic phrase is an attempt to introduce a semblance of order and coherence into what until now have been the totally chaotic efforts of a multitude of organizations trying to assist the public and others who are not mental health clinicians to spot those in need of help, M. David Rudd, Ph.D., explained at the annual meeting of the American Association of Suicidology.

To illustrate the current chaos, he described his Internet search on Google using the key words "warning signs" and "suicide," which returned more than 180,000 hits. He and his coinvestigators then selected 200 of the most popular Web sites for closer examination and determined those sites collectively listed 3,266 warning signs for suicide, many of them duplicates.

"Try to put that on a card you can carry in your wallet," quipped Dr. Rudd, the association's immediate past-president and chair of department of psychology at Texas Tech University, Lubbock.

Next, the investigators scrutinized a random selection of 50 of the 200 Web sites. They counted 138 distinct suicide warning signs listed therein, almost none of them evidence based.

For example, among the purported warning signs was phoning one's grandparents, which is hardly specific for suicidality.

"If I asked, what are the warning signs for stroke, heart attack, or diabetes, just about everybody in this room could give me a pretty accurate representative list. I think it's a tragedy that, in this field, we can't offer a coherent, consistent, compact, and empirically supported list of warning signs for suicide," Dr. Rudd continued.

"When you can get on the Internet and find 3,200 warning signs, all we are doing is confusing the public. What happens is you get people intervening in entirely inappropriate circumstances. …

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