Most Depressed Patients Not Assessed for Suicide Risk

Advertising might encourage more depressed patients to ask physicians for help

TUESDAY, Sept. 25 (HealthDay News) -- A little more than one-third of physicians treating depressed patients investigate the possibility that the patient will commit suicide, researchers report in the September/October issue of the Annals of Family Medicine.

Peter Franks, M.D., of the University of California-Davis in Sacramento, and colleagues analyzed the degree to which 152 northern California and Rochester, N.Y. physicians investigated suicidal tendencies in patients who had two conditions -- major depression and adjustment disorder -- and who made three antidepressant requests between May 2003 and May 2004.

The physicians investigated suicidal tendencies in 36 percent of 298 patient appointments. Physicians asked more questions in academic environments, when they had personal experience with depression, when patients described major depression versus adjustment disorder, or when patients requested antidepressants.

Some issues not associated with physicians' specialties influenced their decision to explore patients' suicidal tendencies, including gender, interaction style, or confidence in treating depression.

"When seeing patients with depressive symptoms, primary care physicians do not consistently inquire about suicidality," the authors write. "Their inquiries into suicidal thinking may be enhanced through advertising or public service messaging that prompts patients to ask for help."

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