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Database may help identify Veterans at risk of suicide

USA Today, the New York Times, and other news outlets wrote about a study by VA and National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) researchers that can help to identify Veterans with a high likelihood of suicide, "in much the same way computer data is used to predict shopping habits,' according to the Times.

The study, published in the June 11 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, found that by using data from VA's electronic health system, researchers could identify very small groups of Veterans with very high predicted suicide risk—most of whom had not been identified for suicide risk by clinicians.

The research team, based within NIMH and several different VHA program offices, developed their suicide risk algorithm by studying VHA's patient population from 2009-2011. Data on manner of death came from the National Death Index, and predictors of suicide and other types of death came from VHA clinical records.

The patient population was randomly divided in half, and the team used one half of the population to develop the model and then tested the model on the other half. Each of the two study samples included 3,180 suicide cases and more than a million control patients. The researchers compared predicted suicide risk to actual mortality to assess the performance of the predictive model.

In a VA news release, Dr. Caitlin Thompson, deputy director for suicide prevention for the department, said that "this collaborative effort with NIMH provides us with unprecedented information that will allow us to design and implement innovative strategies on how to assess and care for those Veterans who may be at high risk for suicide. This model will...allow us to better tailor our suicide prevention efforts so that we can ensure that all Veterans remain safe.'

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