Course Case Studies

Suicide Assessment and Prevention

Course #96441 - $24 • 6 Hours/Credits

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  • Participation Instructions
    • Review the course material online or in print.
    • Complete the course evaluation.
    • Review your Transcript to view and print your Certificate of Completion. Your date of completion will be the date (Pacific Time) the course was electronically submitted for credit, with no exceptions. Partial credit is not available.
Learning Tools - Case Studies

CASE STUDY 1


Patient A, 19 years of age, is brought to the local emergency department by ambulance after being found unconscious on the floor of her mother's living room, an empty pill bottle nearby. She exhibits quiet, shallow breathing but otherwise no spontaneous movement; she does react to deep, noxious stimuli by opening her eyes and moving her extremities but does not speak or respond to questioning. Her neck is supple, and a screening cranial nerve and motor exam shows no focal neurologic deficits. Her blood pressure is 110/70 mm Hg, pulse is 114 beats per minute, respiration 12 breaths per minute, and temperature 98.8°F; the lungs are clear. The empty bottle is a prescription for a tricyclic antidepressant made out to Patient A's mother. The friend who found her has followed and provides some context: she is not working at present, lives with a boyfriend who recently left her ("they fight a lot"), and has been living at her mother's home for several days. She is admitted to the intensive care unit and intubated, primarily to protect her airway from aspiration should she vomit.

Thirty-six hours after admission, Patient A has been extubated and is awake, sitting up, and talking to a young man (the boyfriend) at her bedside. As you approach, she smiles sheepishly and asks, "Can I go home now?" Before answering, which of the following management options would you consider appropriate at this juncture?

  • Have physical therapy assess strength and ambulation. If normal, discharge her home to the care of her family.

  • Ask the young man to step out, then take a careful medical and social history, exploring in detail her mindset, actions, and intent in the period leading up to admission.

  • Anticipate transfer out of the intensive care unit and the need for an around-the-clock "sitter" in her room as a suicide prevention precaution.

  • Request social service consult to assess her resources and support system and a psychiatry consult to assess the need for further inpatient care and recommend a plan for outpatient follow-up.

Patient A is transferred to a regular floor and a sitter is assigned to her room. With the aid of additional clinical observation and consultations, a clearer picture emerges. In the presence of staff, Patient A appears open and optimistic and takes initiative; when her boyfriend or family are present, she becomes passive, more withdrawn, and demanding, expecting others to attend to her needs. Patient A's parents divorced when she was 11 years of age, and two years later, she came under psychiatric care, followed by counseling, because of depression and a brief period of suicide ideation. She had attended college but dropped out after two years. In recent months, her life had become more chaotic. She was unhappy in her job and subject to fits of anger and despondency. She was often at odds with her live-in boyfriend, who, on occasion, threatened to leave her and in fact did so four days prior to her admission. The decision to take an overdose of her mother's medication was judged to have been abrupt and impulsive, perhaps a "suicide gesture" partly misdirected anger and partly designed to win back the attention of her boyfriend. Nevertheless, she almost succeeded in taking her life. The consultant's diagnosis is borderline personality disorder and likely major depression. She is transferred to the inpatient psychiatry service for further evaluation and care. Some days later, she is discharged to a mental health clinic for psychiatric and social service follow-up combined with ongoing counseling.

Learning Tools - Case Studies

CASE STUDY 2


Patient B is 56 years of age, married with one grown daughter. She consults a primary care physician because of a gradual decline in health over the past 12 to 18 months. She has come at the insistence of her daughter, who accompanies her. Her given purpose is vague: a "check-up" and perhaps laboratory work. Her daughter tells the nurse, "My mother's not well. She's home alone, doesn't get enough sleep, and won't eat right. She complains about her stomach and thinks she has food allergies; she has tried special diets, supplements, and herbal remedies and claims she's getting better, but she's not." The patient is petite, well-groomed, and smiles readily. She tells the physician, "I'll be okay, but I do want to be sure I'm not anemic or have a thyroid problem." She gives a history of chronic, recurrent abdominal discomfort, bloating, periodic constipation, and intolerance to many foods. As a young woman, she was told she has irritable bowel syndrome and was given trials of medication, but she reports being unable to take these medications and being "very sensitive to any prescription medication." She thinks she has lost maybe 5 pounds in the past year. Her examination is unrevealing, except she is thin and there is a hint of generalized muscle atrophy. Over the course of the interview, she appears tired and to have a slightly blunt affect. The following laboratory tests are ordered: complete blood count, chemistry profile, vitamin D and B12 levels, and thyroid function tests. She is given an appointment to return in five days to discuss the results and plan a course of treatment.

Five days after the initial visit, in anticipation of follow-up later that day, the physician reviews Patient B's laboratory results, all of which are normal. That afternoon, the patient is a "no-show," and no further action is taken. Some time the following week, the office nurse asks her colleague about Patient B, stating "Something about her really bothered me." She recommends that the physician call the patient to follow-up, which he does. The daughter answers with a mix of concern and relief. She states, "I'm really worried about my mother. She's not making sense at times, seems really down, and says we'd all be better off if she just went to sleep and didn't wake up…I didn't mention it last week, but she and my dad are not doing well. He's busy, on the road a lot, and I get the feeling she thinks he's unfaithful to her." At this juncture what do you do?

  • Ask the daughter to bring her mother to the office today, along with all supplements and herbal medicines she may have been taking.

  • Consider the key issue(s) and give some thought to your clinical approach (e.g., sequencing the encounter and useful tools that will help to identify major depression and assess suicide risk).

  • Anticipate logistical barriers in relation to time of day and the possible need for immediate psychiatric consultation and/or hospitalization.

Patient B arrives at the office with her daughter. She appears withdrawn and preoccupied, having a look of resignation and despair. Seated together, you begin the interview in a positive, affirming manner: "I'm pleased that all your laboratory work, including your thyroid tests, is normal. You know you told me you would be okay, and I believe if we work together, so as to know and understand better what you are going through, we can relieve many of your symptoms and get you to a much better place." She is receptive, and after further discussions, the following picture emerges: Patient B has been unhappy for "a very long time." There is little to add to the somatic complaints related on the first visit. She sleeps poorly and is tired all the time; she has lost interest in what was previously an active social life and rarely "goes out." There is a good deal of psychic stress and pain attached to the relationship with her husband, and a sense of hopelessness has been building for months. In recent days, she has not slept and has periods of confusion. She wishes not to be a burden to those closest to her and has thought often of ending her life. Recently she has been thinking about just how to do this, the options available to her, and how it might be done so as to mask her intent. At the conclusion of the interview, you glance at the nurse with an expression of appreciation, and shudder to think how easily you might have missed all this.

  • Recall the mnemonic device IS PATH WARM. How many of the elements are positive for Patient B? Which ones?

  • Would you rate Patient B's suicide risk as low? Intermediate? High?

  • Which of the following management options is the LEAST appropriate at this juncture?

    • Send the patient home with a prescription for an antidepressant and a plan for regular return psychotherapy sessions in your office.

    • Refer her to a psychiatrist (appointment in 48 to 72 hours) and negotiate a "contract" with the patient that she is not to take matters into her own hands but will call you immediately if she has thoughts of doing so.

    • Arrange admission to the hospital medical service with a "sitter" and place an urgent psychiatry consultation.

    • Call your psychiatry consultant to summarize the case and request immediate consultation or admission to the inpatient psychiatry service.

  • Back to Course Home
  • Participation Instructions
    • Review the course material online or in print.
    • Complete the course evaluation.
    • Review your Transcript to view and print your Certificate of Completion. Your date of completion will be the date (Pacific Time) the course was electronically submitted for credit, with no exceptions. Partial credit is not available.