Therapeutic Risk Management of the Suicidal Patient: Augmenting Clinical Suicide Risk Assessment with Structured Instruments

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Abstract

This column is the second in a series presenting a model for therapeutic risk management of the suicidal patient. As discussed in the first part of the series, the model involves several elements including augmenting clinical risk assessment with structured instruments, stratifying risk in terms of both severity and temporality, and developing and documenting a safety plan. This column explores in more detail how to augment clinical risk assessment with structured instruments. Unstructured clinical interviews have the potential to miss important aspects of suicide risk assessment. By augmenting the free-form clinical interview with structured instruments that demonstrate reliability and validity, a more nuanced and multifaceted approach to suicide risk assessment is achieved. Incorporating structured instruments into practice also serves a medicolegal function, since these instruments may become a living part of the medical record, establishing baseline levels of suicidal thoughts and behaviors and facilitating future clinical determinations regarding safety needs. We describe several instruments used in a multidisciplinary suicide consultation service, each of which has demonstrated relevance to suicide risk assessment and screening, ease of administration, and strong psychometric properties. In addition, we emphasize the importance of viewing suicide risk assessment as an ongoing process rather than as a singular event. Finally, we discuss special considerations in the evolving practice of risk assessment. (Journal of Psychiatric Practice 2013;19:406–409)

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