Suicide ranks 11th as one of the leading causes of death in the US- accounting for 33,000 deaths yearly. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for people 10-24 years of age; it remains a major public health problem. Given this nation’s economic challenges, rates may continue to rise.

A simple question from a family doctor can be enough to start a person towards help and treatment.

Researchers at Mayo clinic and the University of Washington, Seattle highlights that opportunity primary care physicians have to establish a successful treatment plan for these patients.

"As doctors, we know patients don't suddenly consider suicide because we ask if they've thought about death," says Timothy Lineberry, M.D., psychiatrist at Mayo Clinic. "Yet, too often a patient with clear risk factors isn't asked whether they are having thoughts of suicide."

Although the reasons why people commit suicide are complex the warning signs do exist. Ninety percent of people who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental health problem: Depression, schizophrenia, eating disorders, severe anxiety and substance abuse or often combination of both.

In fact, nearly 45 percent of those dying by suicide saw their primary care physician weeks or days before death.

"A patient with symptoms of depression, severe anxiety or substance misuse should be asked directly about suicide," Dr. Lineberry says. "Unfortunately, research shows that this happens less than half the time."

Dr. Lineberry and his collegues highlights the potential benefits for improving depression treatment and decreasing suicide risk in collaborative care of depression treatment models.

Published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings