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Can we predict suicide and non-fatal self-harm with the Beck Hopelessness Scale? A meta-analysis


Background. Hopelessness is considered a pre-eminent risk factor for suicide and non-fatal self-harm. We aimed to quantify the ability of the Beck Hopelessness Scale (BHS) to predict these two outcomes.

Method. Medline, Embase, PsycINFO and Cinahl were searched to January 2006. We included cohort studies in which the BHS was applied and patients were followed-up to establish subsequent suicide or non-fatal self-harm. Four studies provided usable data on suicide, and six studies provided data on non-fatal self-harm. Summary sensitivity, specificity, likelihood ratios and diagnostic odds ratios (DORs) were calculated for each study. Random effects meta-analytic pooling across studies at the standard cut-off point ([ges ]9) was undertaken and summary receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves constructed.

Results. For suicide, pooled sensitivity was 0·80 [95% confidence interval (CI) 0·68–0·90], pooled specificity was 0·42 (95% CI 0·41–0·44), and the pooled DOR was 3·39 (95% CI 1·29–8·88). For non-fatal self-harm, pooled sensitivity was 0·78 (95% CI 0·74–0·82), pooled specificity was 0·42 (95% CI 0·38–0·45), and the pooled DOR was 2·27 (95% CI 1·53–3·37).

Conclusion. The standard cut-off point on the BHS identifies a high-risk group for potential suicide, but the magnitude of the risk is lower than previously reported estimates. The standard cut-off point is also capable of identifying those who are at risk of future self-harm, but the low specificity rate means it is unlikely to be of use in targeting treatment designed to lower the rate of repetition.

Corresponding author
Academic Unit of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences, University of Leeds, 15 Hyde Terrace, Leeds, West Yorkshire LS2 9LT, UK. (Email:
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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
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