Suicide assessment is the clinical technique of detecting a person’s risk of committing suicide. It aims to prevent suicide by predicting whether a person has any intent of committing life threatening acts within a short period of time. Mental health professionals commonly administer suicide assessment tests through a series of interviews and by checking whether the patient matches a number of criteria from a specified set of suicide risk factors. Furthermore, the people close to the patient may be asked to stage an intervention or maintain a suicide watch.
The most difficult part of suicide risk assessment is recognizing warning signs. It can be difficult to detect indications of imminent suicide because people at risk will not necessarily express what they are thinking or feeling. In any case, the majority of patients tend to give clues in one form or another. Some, such as self injury and insomnia, can be explicit, while others, like appetite loss and aversion to social interaction, can be very subtle.
Psychologists and other mental health professionals generally look for warning signs and risk factors to help them formulate an accurate suicide assessment. Warning signs are the symptoms exhibited by the patient that signify suicide risk. Some of these include neglecting personal hygiene, substance abuse, giving away prized possessions, and an abrupt elevated mood after showing signs of depression.
Risk factors, on the other hand, are the things or events that may contribute to suicidal tendencies. Often these factors might have a great emotional and psychological effect on a person. Among the common risk factors are bipolar disorder and clinical depression, previous suicide attempts, job loss, physical or sexual abuse, and loss of a loved one through death or separation.
When creating an accurate suicide assessment, mental health physicians usually attempt to draw out suicidal ideation from the patient. Suicidal ideation is the way a patient views the act and consequences of suicide. It is important in assessing suicide risk because it can offer a glimpse of the patient's determination to commit suicide. In some cases, the patient will even talk about how he or she plans to commit the act.
Ideation is typically elicited by interviewing suicidal patients. The patient may be asked leading questions such as “How do you feel about your life?” or “Do you have any plans to commit suicide?” After mental state is established, it is common for the physician to create a “no suicide” contract with the patient, if the suicide assessment indicates that he or she is at risk. This can be through a verbal or written agreement, in which the patient agrees to not to harm him or herself during a specific time period while the patient and doctor work out a way of eliminating the suicidal impulses. The patient’s friends and relatives may be asked to keep him or her company in order to distract the patient from the suicidal thoughts.