Journal Article

Family-based Crisis Intervention with Suicidal Adolescents in the Emergency Room: A Pilot Study

Elizabeth A. Wharff, Katherine M. Ginnis and Abigail M. Ross

in Social Work

Published on behalf of National Association of Social Workers

Volume 57, issue 2, pages 133-143
Published in print April 2012 | ISSN: 0037-8046
Published online April 2012 | e-ISSN: 1545-6846 | DOI:
Family-based Crisis Intervention with Suicidal Adolescents in the Emergency Room: A Pilot Study

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The prevailing model of care for psychiatric patients in the emergency room (ER) is evaluation and disposition, with little or no treatment provided. This article describes the results of a pilot study of a family-based crisis intervention (FBCI) for suicidal adolescents and their families in a large, urban pediatric ER. FBCI is an intervention designed to sufficiently stabilize patients within a single ER visit so that they can return home safely with their families. Of the 100 suicidal adolescents and their families in the sample, 67 met eligibility criteria for FBCI. Demographic and clinical characteristics and disposition outcomes from the sample were compared with those obtained retrospectively from a matched comparison group (N = 150). Statistical analyses compared group inpatient admission rates and disposition outcomes. Patients in the pilot cohort were significantly less likely to be hospitalized than were those in the comparison group (36 percent versus 55 percent). Only two of the patients in the FBCI cohort were hospitalized immediately after receiving the intervention during their ER visit. FBCI with suicidal adolescents and their families during a single ER visit is feasible and safely limits the need for inpatient psychiatric hospitalization, thereby avoiding disruption of family, academic, and social activities and increasing use of less intrusive and more cost-effective psychiatric treatment.

Keywords: crisis intervention; family intervention; suicidal adolescents; suicide

Journal Article.  5712 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social Work

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