In Australia, suicide is the leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 44 years. The suicide rate for men aged over 85 years is the highest of any age group.
A new article published in the October edition of Australian Prescriber emphasises the important role GPs can play in detecting and managing suicidal patients. It is authored by Conjoint Associate Professor Josephine Anderson from the Black Dog Institute, and UNSW Professors Philip Mitchell and Henry Brodaty.
Many patients who attempt suicide visit their GP in the preceding months, making GPs well placed to help reduce the unacceptably high suicide rate in Australia.
“When a patient admits to suicidal thoughts or behaviour, understanding their predicament begins with an exploration of these ideas,” state the authors. “This includes exploring the nature of the thoughts, any plans they might have to end their life including methods and access to these methods. It’s important to discuss previous suicide attempts also.”
GPs assessing patients for the symptoms and severity of depression may use self-reporting scales such as the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), which includes questions around thoughts of suicide and can be a useful springboard for further discussion.
However, as the article highlights, there are other vital approaches that can support suicide detection and intervention. This should include having discussions about factors contributing to poor mental health, such as recent bereavement or relationship problems, alcohol use, chronic pain, and loss of support.
For people with depression, the article lists several evidence based psychological therapies. If drug treatment is indicated, the authors advise on the choice of antidepressant. To read the full article and others visit Australian Prescriber.
Experts are available for media interviews.