Risk Assessment of Self-Injurious Behavior and Suicide Presentation in the Emergency Department: An Integrative Review

Published:November 13, 2021DOI:



      Globally, there is a lack of clarity regarding the best practice to distinguish patients at the highest risk of suicide. This review explores the use of risk assessment tools in emergency departments to identify patients at high risk of repeat self-harm, suicide attempts, or death by suicide.


      The review question (“Does the use of risk assessment tools in emergency departments identify patients at high risk of repeat self-harm, suicide attempts, or death by suicide?”) focused on exposure and outcome. Studies of any design were included. The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis guidelines were used. Study characteristics and concepts were extracted, compared, and verified. An integrative approach was used for reporting through narrative synthesis.


      Nine studies were identified for inclusion. Two risk assessment tools were found to have good predictive ability for suicide ideation and self-harm. Three had modest prediction of patient disposition, but in one study, the clinical impression of nurses had higher predictive ability. One tool showed modest predictive ability for patients requiring admission.


      This review found no strong evidence to indicate that any particular risk tool has a superior predictive ability to identify repeat self-harm, suicide attempts, or death by suicide. Best practice lacks clarity to determine patients at highest risk of suicide, but the use of risk assessment tools has been recommended. Nevertheless, such tools should not be used in isolation from clinical judgment and experience to evaluate patients at risk. Education and training to augment risk assessment within the emergency department are recommended.

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      Isabel Stewart, Staff Nurse in Stroke, Barts Health NHS Trust, London, United Kingdom. ORCID identifier: Twitter:@isabelstewartRN


      Liz Lees-Deutsch, Associate Professor for Nursing, Centre for Care Excellence, University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire and a Clinical Academic Nurse, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health, Coventry University. Coventry, United Kingdom. ORCID identifier: Twitter: @LizzieDeutsch