Patient and Clinician Age and Suicide Risk Assessment

June 24, 2016

News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark Research

Research revealed that younger mental health clinicians judged a hypothetical patient’s suicide risk and need for hospitalization to be higher if the patient was described as 79 years old than if the patient was described as 39 years old (i.e. closer to their own age) even if all other characteristics of the patient were the same. In contrast, older clinicians assessed the 39-year-old patient to be more at risk of suicide and in need of hospitalization than the 79-year-old patient.

Female clinicians were more than twice as likely than male clinicians to believe that the patient was in need of hospitalization. Clinicians who saw fewer patients a week were more likely to assess the hypothetical patient to be in need of hospitalization than patients who saw more than 21 patients each week. Older clinicians tended to judge the hypothetical patient to be at higher risk than younger clinicians, regardless of the patient’s age. Most mental health clinicians (of any age and either sex) did not think the hypothetical patient required hospitalization.

The authors suggested that it is important that mental health clinicians be made aware of biases that could affect their assessment of suicide risk and be provided with tools to mitigate them, such as assessment and hospitalization protocols that include “if this, then that” rules.

Berman, N. C., Tung, E. S., Matheny, N., Cohen, I. G., & Wilhelm, S. (2016). Clinical decision making regarding suicide risk: Effect of patient and clinician age. Death Studies, 40(5), 269–274.