Does the Timing of Suicide Risk Assessments Influence Ratings of Risk Severity?

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Abstract

Clinicians are often tasked with identifying and managing patients who are at risk for suicide. Therefore, greater understanding of factors that impact the efficacy of suicide risk assessments (SRAs) are of critical importance. One potential factor that may affect assessments of risk severity is the timing of the evaluation during clinical interview. Given that some patients are reluctant to disclose suicide-related symptoms, it is possible that asking about suicide at the beginning of an interview elicits more false negatives. It is also possible that if risk assessments are conducted in a manner that is encouraging to the patient, timing does not significantly impact patient report. This study examined whether SRA timing within an initial intake interview affects risk severity ratings. Adult psychiatric outpatients (N = 169) were randomly assigned to receive an SRA during the beginning or middle of a 1-hr intake. We failed to find a significant difference in suicide risk ratings between those who were evaluated at the beginning compared to the middle of intake (14% vs. 15% rated at elevated risk). Findings were not moderated by age, gender, or attempt history. Our results provide preliminary evidence that the timing of SRA may not impact risk severity ratings.

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