Suicide Risk Screening

Suicide Risk Screening: An Overview

Every year, millions of people are affected by suicide – as survivors of suicidal loss, as individuals with suicidal thoughts, or as individuals who have attempted suicide. To help in the prevention of suicide, suicide risk screening has become a critical part of mental health care. The purpose of suicide risk screening is to identify individuals who are at risk for suicide, so that they can receive proper treatment, support, and follow-up.

Suicide risk screening often consists of clinical assessments, such as a clinical interview or a standardized observational tool. Both can help identify the risk factors for suicide and assess the level of that risk. The clinical assessment can then be used to refer the patient to appropriate care.

What is Suicide Risk Assessment?

Suicide risk assessment is the process of evaluating a person’s potential for suicide. It involves assessing the individual’s risk factors, protective factors, current state of depression, and any potential stressors. A thorough assessment also includes questions designed to measure the severity of the depression and suicidal thoughts, as well as questions about the individual’s access to lethal means of suicide, such as firearms or medications.

Suicide risk assessments can be completed by a clinician or other professional during the course of a clinical interview. It is typically done as a part of a comprehensive suicide risk assessment, which may also include physical assessment, laboratory tests, and psychological evaluations. The results of the risk assessment provide important information that can help a healthcare provider determine the best course of action for the individual at risk.

Preparation for Suicide Risk Screening

To prepare for suicide risk screening, it is important to have all of the necessary information and materials. This includes having a list of any medications or treatments the person is currently taking, a copy of any relevant medical records, and any other documentation that may provide helpful insight. Additionally, the individual should be prepared to discuss any history of mental health issues and trauma, as well as any suicide attempts, thoughts, or plans.

Procedure for Suicide Risk Screening

The exact procedure for conducting a suicide risk screening can vary depending on the individual’s situation. Generally, the process starts with an initial screening that is designed to identify factors that could potentially increase the risk of suicide. Examples of some of the questions that may be asked during an initial screening include:

  • Are you feeling depressed or hopeless?
  • Have you had thoughts of suicide in the past few weeks?
  • Do you have access to lethal means of suicide (e.g., firearms, medications)?
  • Do you feel like you have other options for coping with your current situation?
  • Do you have a plan to attempt suicide?

Once these initial questions have been answered, the individual's risk for suicide can be further evaluated through additional questions and/or a tool such as the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS). The C-SSRS is a tool designed to help clinicians accurately assess suicide risk and identify the appropriate level of intervention or treatment needed. Using the C-SSRS, the individual's answers are categorized according to the severity of their risk for suicide. Based on the results of the assessment, the healthcare provider can then determine the proper course of action.

Types of Suicide Risk Assessment

There are several different types of suicide risk assessment tools available. These include self-report or questionnaire-style measures that can be completed on paper or electronically. Some of the most common include the Beck Scale for Suicide Ideation (BSI) and the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS). Additionally, some assessments may include more structured interviews that ask specific questions, such as the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV (SCID-IV).

Why is Suicide Risk Assessment Important?

Suicide risk assessment is an important part of suicide prevention, as it can help identify individuals who are at risk for suicide and ensure that they receive proper treatment and support. Studies have shown that risk assessment can reduce suicide attempts and mortality rates, and can help healthcare professionals identify the best plan of action for those at risk.

When Should Suicide Risk Assessment Be Used?

Suicide risk assessment should be used whenever an individual is perceived to be at risk for suicide. This may include individuals who have experienced a traumatic event, have a known mental health condition, are feeling depressed or hopeless, or have engaged in suicidal behavior, such as making plans to attempt suicide or thinking about taking their own life.

Risks of Suicide Risk Assessment

While there are significant benefits to suicide risk assessment, there are also potential risks. These may include stigmatizing individuals with suicidal ideation or labeling them as “at risk” for suicide. Additionally, the questions asked during the assessment may be uncomfortable or triggering, and can create a sense of distrust or fear in the individual being assessed.

It is important for healthcare providers to be aware of these risks and to use caution when conducting suicide risk assessments. In some cases, it may be more beneficial to refer the patient to a mental health professional who is better equipped to conduct a full assessment and provide appropriate treatment.