Most people shouldn't be screened for suicide risk factors, an expert U.S. medical panel said Tuesday.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent medical panel with federal government support, said not enough evidence exists to recommend suicide risk screenings for all teenagers and adults, though the report authors added new ways should be found to identify those at risk.

"Unfortunately, at this time we don't know if asking everyone who visits their doctor or nurse about their risk factors for suicide leads to fewer suicides and suicide attempts," Dr. David Grossman, a member of the panel, said in a release.

However, the task force continues to recommend that clinicians screen teenagers and adults for depression, an intervention supported by evidence as highly effective, the panel said. Grossman qualified his statement, saying clinicians should screen for suicide risk when presented with patient symptoms of depression or particular mental health conditions for which suicide is a risk. "For these individuals, having clinicians ask about suicidal thoughts should be part of managing their disease," he said.

Suicide represents a major public health problem in the United States, with more than 37,000 deaths per year — killing slightly more Americans than die in traffic accidents. Among teenagers, the risk of suicide is statistically highest among Hispanic girls and American Indian/Alaskan Natives, with men and older people facing the highest risk among adults.

"The task force calls on the research community to prioritize studies to develop screening tools that can better identify people without symptoms who are at risk for suicide and to create effective support and treatment programs for people with risk factors for suicide," Grossman said. "We know that many people who attempt suicide have visited a health care professional within a month before their attempt. This means that we have a real opportunity to help if we find better tools."

In recent years, much has been made about the suicide risk among U.S. service members and veterans, with the U.S. Army in late September conducting an unprecedented service-wide "stand-down" to focus on suicide prevention. However, at least one analyst, writing in Forbes Magazine this year, believes the concern about suicide in American society and the military to be overstated, however grave a subject.

"[I]f the actual rate of suicide among current and past military members is the same (or possibly even a little lower) than that in the general population then it's very difficult indeed to conclude that we've an 'epidemic' going on," wrote Tim Worstall. And while the problem of suicide within the military might be more of a problem for American society in general, he wrote, America's suicide rate remains middling among nations of the world.

The US Preventive Task Force said clinicians and members of the public are welcome to comment on the draft version of their report during the next 4 weeks.

See also, U.S. Armed Forces News, a report on the "mind of a suicidal solder":