March 1 (UPI) -- Researchers have developed a new way to forecast the risk of young people committing suicide, a new study says.
The new method predicted suicidal tendencies in 87 percent of young study participants, according to the findings published Wednesday in JAMA Psychiatry.
Traditional methods use psychiatric diagnoses to detect suicidal tendencies that rely on labeling patients. But those labels often need to change along with a patient's age and symptoms.
The researchers in this study followed 663 teens and young adults whose parents had been diagnosed with mood disorders. Throughout the 12-year study, participants received periodical evaluations using standard assessments for psychiatric diagnoses and symptoms of depression, hopelessness, irritability, impulsivity, aggression and impulsive aggression.
Based on their findings, the researchers say that following a young person's severe depressive symptoms as they change over time is the most accurate way to predict suicide.
"Predicting suicidal behavior is one of the most challenging tasks in psychiatry, but for an outcome that is so life-threatening, it is definitely not acceptable that we're only doing slightly better than chance," senior author Nadine Melhem, associate professor of psychiatry at Pitt's School of Medicine and study author, said in a news release.
This new model pinpoints and tracks the variability of those suicidal symptoms over time in young people, along with other factors like their history of childhood abuse, and whether they or their parent has ever attempted suicide.
The researchers figured that severe depressive symptoms and high variability of those symptoms over time were the biggest predictors of suicidal behavior.
This is important because suicide is the second leading cause of death of Americans between ages 15 and 34, according to the study.
"Our findings suggest that when treating patients, clinicians must pay particular attention to the severity of current and past depressive symptoms and try to reduce their severity and fluctuations to decrease suicide risk," Melhem said. "The Prediction Risk Score is a valuable addition to the physician's toolkit to help predict suicide risk in high-risk individuals, and it can be done at little cost because the information needed is already being collected as part of standard evaluations."