Mental Health Professionals and Client Suicide Risk Assessment

In a study published last year, researchers reported that about “20 percent of suicide decedents have had contact with a mental health professional within one month prior to their death.”

That alarming percentage has put suicide risk assessment at the forefront of mental health professionals’ agenda in recent years, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also highlighted the alarming statistics on suicides: According to the CDC, suicide remains the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.

Because the rate of suicide remains high in the Untied States—and because a proportion of those who commit suicide come into contact with a mental health profession relatively soon before their death—mental health professionals need evidence-based practices to rely on in order to identify at-risk individuals.

“Mental health professionals are in a key position to appropriately assess suicide risk and make potentially life-saving decisions about suicide risk management and interventions,” the researchers of the 2017 study write, adding: “Therefore, it is important to determine whether providers are utilizing evidence-based suicide risk assessment and management (EBAM) and if there are factors associated with the implementation of these practices.”

So, what are some guidelines that mental health professionals can rely on? According to research, mental health professionals may:

  • Advocate for a suicide risk assessment during an initial interview with a patient or upon admission to a facility.
  • Obtain consent to speak with significant others in the patient’s social support network about suicide risk.
  • Utilize suicide safety planning and providing contact information for suicide crisis hotlines.

The authors of the abovementioned research stress interventions that are evidence-based and that have demonstrated reliability within the scientific literature.

Unfortunately, however, some mental health workers—psychologists, social workers, counselors, etc.—do not all feel adequately trained to handle suicide risk assessment. The authors of the study report that, “research suggests that fewer than 25% of social workers and fewer than 50% of psychologists and psychologists-in-training receive training in suicide prevention.” They add: “Additionally, nearly one third of mental health professionals believe they have received insufficient suicide-focused training, although only 9% reported not having worked with suicidal patients.”

Moreover, “mental health professionals’ fear and anxiety may influence a variety of clinical practices related to suicide risk,” so, when it comes to suicide risk assessment for mental health professionals, the literature appears to suggest that more evidence-based training needs to be emphasized in order to implement the guidelines and recommendations for suicide risk assessment.

Finally, because suicide and self-harm remains a high cause of death in the United States, better practices and training for suicide risk assessment and identification may need to be included in future training. In the end, suicide prevention remains an important goal for the professional community as well as for public health and mental health advocates all around and proper training and resources may help lessen suicide’s impact among the population.


Roush, J. F., Brown, S. L., Jahn, D. R., Mitchell, S. M., Taylor, N. J., Quinnett, P., & Ries, R. (2017, September 15). Mental Health Professionals’ Suicide Risk Assessment and Management Practices: The Impact of Fear of Suicide-Related Outcomes and Comfort Working With Suicidal Individuals. Crisis. Advance online publication.

Brooke Lamberti

Brooke Lamberti is a content writer based out of Scranton, Pennsylvania. She received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Marywood University, and has prior career experience working in social work and domestic violence advocacy. She has a passion for writing and helping others.

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