Objectives: People who self-harm frequently present to the emergency department (ED) and are treated by generalist healthcare staff with no specialist mental health training. We systematically reviewed (i) training interventions for generalist ED providers and (ii) psychosocial interventions delivered predominantly by generalist ED providers for people who self-harm.
Method: Five databases were searched for studies reporting on training interventions for generalist ED staff (at least 50% of the sample needed to be generalist ED staff) or psychosocial interventions for people who self-harm delivered predominantly by generalist ED staff. No limitations were placed regarding study design/country. Narrative synthesis was conducted.
Results: Fifteen studies from high-income countries were included. Nine studies of moderate methodological quality evaluated training for generalist ED providers (n = 1587). Six studies of good methodological quality evaluated psychosocial interventions for adults who self-harm (n = 3133). Only one randomized controlled trial was identified. Training was linked with pre-post improvements in staff knowledge, and less consistently with improvement in skills, attitudes, and confidence. Evidence on patient outcomes was lacking. Patient-level interventions involving common suicide prevention strategies-safety planning and follow-up contact-were consistently linked to pre-post reductions in suicide attempts. Effects on treatment engagement and psychiatric admissions were unclear.
Conclusions: There is a clear need for further RCTs to improve the evidence base for ED generalist providers managing patients with self-harm. Evidence supports potential benefits of training for improving staff knowledge, attitudes, and skills, and of safety planning and follow-up contact for reducing repeat suicide attempts.
HIGHLIGHTS: More RCTs are needed to improve the evidence base for ED providers managing self-harm. Safety planning and follow up contacts are linked to reductions in repeat suicide attempts. Future research should investigate the impact of staff training on patient outcomes.
Keywords: Suicide; emergency department; psychosocial interventions; self-harm; staff education.