CPD Articles

Management of self-harm, suicidal ideation and suicide attempts

Adeyinka A. Alabi
South African Family Practice | Vol 64, No 1 : Part 2| a5496 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/safp.v64i1.5496 | © 2022 Adeyinka Abiodun Alabi | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 26 January 2022 | Published: 26 April 2022

About the author(s)

Adeyinka A. Alabi, Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Health Science, Walter Sisulu University, Uitenhage, South Africa; and, Department of Family Medicine, Dore Nginza Hospital, Uitenhage, South Africa


The strategic location of primary care providers (PCPs) in clinics, private general practices and emergency departments is critical to the detection and appropriate management of patients with suicidal behaviour. Their position within the primary care setting and responsibility for preventive and promotive care require PCPs to possess good clinical skills and evidence-based knowledge to assist patients presenting with suicidal ideation and behaviour. The objective of this article is to provide guidelines for the management of suicidal behaviour within the primary care setting, with the goal of reducing deaths from suicide, and the frequency and intensity of suicide attempts. The priority in the management of patients presenting at health facilities following suicide attempts is medical resuscitation and stabilisation. As soon as the patient is medically stable, a thorough suicide risk assessment, which evaluates suicidal ideation/intent, preceding circumstances, predisposing and protective factors, should be conducted. An assessment of current and ongoing suicide risk will assist in determining the safest place to manage the patient. For those with a low level of suicide risk, outpatient management may be considered in the presence of a good social support system at home and a well-documented safety plan. Measures should be put in place to address the modifiable psychosocial risk factors for suicide, whilst appropriate pharmacotherapy is instituted for co-existing mental illness. Post-discharge care such as referral to psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker should be initiated by the primary care practitioner to ensure continuity of care. Support and psycho-education should also be extended to immediate family members of patients with suicidal behaviour for their own well-being and their ability to support the patient.



mood disorder; parasuicide; primary healthcare; psychiatric diagnosis; suicide


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