Disparities in Treatment of Older Adults with Suicide Risk in the Emergency Department

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Emergency Medicine

Publication Date


Document Type



Emergency Medicine | Geriatrics | Mental and Social Health | Psychiatry and Psychology


BACKGROUND/OBJECTIVE: We described characteristics and treatment received for older ( > /=60 years) vs younger ( < 60 years) adult emergency department (ED) patients with suicide risk. DESIGN: Retrospective chart review.

SETTING: An ED with universal screening for suicide risk.

PARTICIPANTS: Eligible charts included a random sample of adults ( > /=18 years) who screened positive for suicidal ideation (SI) in past 2 weeks and/or a suicide attempt (SA) within the past 6 months. Visit dates were from May 2014 to September 2016.

RESULTS: A total of 800 charts were reviewed, with oversampling of older adults. Of the 200 older adults sampled, fewer older adults compared to younger adults (n = 600) had a chief complaint involving psychiatric behavior (53% vs 70%) or self-harm behavior (26% vs 36%). Although a higher number of older adults (93%) had documentation of current SI compared to younger adults (79%), fewer older adults (17%) reported SA in the past 2 weeks compared to younger adults (23%). Of those with a positive suicide screen who were discharged home, less than half of older adults received a mental health evaluation during their visit (42%, 95% CI 34-52) compared to 66% (95% CI 61-70) of younger adults who met the same criteria. Similarly, fewer older, than younger, adult patients with current SI/SA received referral resources (34%; 95% CI 26-43; vs 60%; 95% CI 55-65).

CONCLUSIONS: Significantly fewer suicidal older adult patients who were discharged home received a mental health evaluation when compared to similar younger adults. These findings highlight an important area for improvement in the treatment of older adults at risk for suicide.


suicide, emergency department, older adult, mental health evaluation, treatment

DOI of Published Version



J Am Geriatr Soc. 2017 Oct;65(10):2272-2277. doi: 10.1111/jgs.15011. Epub 2017 Jul 28. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID