Determinants and Predictive Value of Clinician Assessment of Short-Term Suicide Risk

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Abstract

We examine the interrelations among clinicians' judgment of patients' suicide risk, clinicians' emotional responses, and standard risk factors in the short-term prediction of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Psychiatric outpatients (n = 153) with a lifetime history of suicide ideation/attempt and their treating clinicians (n = 67) were evaluated at intake. Clinicians completed a standard suicide risk instrument (modified SAD PERSONS scale), a 10-point Likert scale assessment of judgment of patient suicide risk (Clinician Prediction Scale), and a measure of their emotional responses to the patient (Therapist Response Questionnaire-Suicide Form). The Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale and the Beck Scale for Suicide Ideation were administered at a one-month follow-up assessment (n = 114, 74.5%). Clinician judgment of risk significantly predicted suicidal thoughts and behaviors at follow-up. Both the standard suicide risk instrument and clinician emotional responses contributed independently to the clinician assessment of risk, which, in turn, mediated their relationships with suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Our findings validate the importance of clinical judgment in assessing suicide risk. Clinical judgment appears to be informed both by concrete risk factors and clinicians' emotional responses to suicidal patients, highlighting emotional awareness as a promising area for research and training.

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