Cases That Test Your Skills

Is this adolescent suicidal? Challenges in pediatric inpatient consultation-liaison

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Nine months after emigrating from Yemen, Ms. S, age 16, overdoses on pain medication. She denies having anxiety or stress, but says she previously attempted suicide by knife. Is she suicidal?



CASE Attempted suicide?

Ms. S, a 16-year-old Yemeni-American girl, is brought to the emergency department (ED) by her mother and brother after ingesting an overdose of painkillers and fainting. During the initial evaluation, Ms. S says she had in the past attempted suicide by knife. The medical team suspects that the current overdose is a suicide attempt, and they call the consultation-liaison (C-L) psychiatry/psychology team. Ms. S’s brother strongly denies that his sister had previously attempted suicide, stating, “She’s from a good family, and she is smart. She cannot feel that way.” He also requests the name of the clinician who documented this information in the medical record.

During the consultation, Ms. S reports that the previous morning, she developed strong abdominal pain and discovered that she was menstruating for the first time. She explains that she did not understand what was happening to her and that no one had discussed menstruation with her before. Ms. S took her mother’s opioid pain medication. Ms. S reports she took one pill, but when it did not immediately alleviate her pain, she ingested several more. After this, Ms. S says she went to play with her siblings, but gradually became dizzy and confused, and informed her sister and mother of this. The family was fasting in observance of Ramadan, and as they walked toward the mosque, Ms. S fainted, which prompted her family to bring her to the ED.

During the C-L consultation, Ms. S’s brother, who speaks English, is present, as is her mother, who speaks only Arabic and thus needs a phone interpreter. As the C-L team asks Ms. S a question, it is translated to her mother, and then Ms. S’s response is also translated, and then finally, the mother shares her own response. At times, her brother provides translation. Ms. S speaks in English, but often asks for the translation of words or questions.

Ms. S reports that she and her family emigrated from Yemen to the United States 9 months ago. Ms. S says that she enjoys school and is doing well academically. She denies experiencing any anxiety, worry, or stress related to her life in Yemen, her move to a new country, her parents’ health, school, or other domains. Ms. S also denies any history of depressive episodes or previous suicidal ideation, intention, or attempt, which contradicts her endorsement of a previous suicide attempt to one clinician when she was initially evaluated.

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