Suicide risk assessment

The Victorian Department of Health & Human Services has produced a detailed series of guidelines on Working with the suicidal person, which aim to help mental health services and clinicians to assess, manage and work with people who have made a suicide attempt or are at risk of taking their own lives.

One of the guidelines is the suicide risk assessment. Working with the suicidal person has practices and principles to aid assessment and manage people at risk.

Key messages

  • While there are guides available the ultimate decision in situations involving suicide and self-harm must be made by the attending clinician.
  • It is important to take risk factors into account when dealing with potentially suicidal individuals.
  • There are important principles for mental health staff to consider in the assessment and management of people at risk of suicide.
  • Suicide risk assessment should always be followed by a comprehensive mental health status examination.

Guidelines for best practice psychosocial assessment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people presenting to hospital with self-harm and suicidal thoughts

The Menzies School of Health Research (Menzies), commissioned by the Centre for Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention (CBPATSISP) have developed evidenced-based Guidelines for best practice psychosocial assessment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people presenting to hospital with self-harm and suicidal thoughts (Guidelines) to improve the quality of care and outcomes for people presenting with suicidal thoughts and behaviours.

The Guidelines were developed using the Delphi method to ensure recommendations reflect the latest available evidence and the perspectives of experts and those with lived experience.

The Guidelines contain recommendations designed to:

  • Develop the cultural competency of hospital staff as a foundation for providing more culturally responsive hospital mental health services.
  • Recommend practices and strategies that encourage patient and cultural safety.
  • Improve the quality of assessments that informs clinical decision-making.
  • Promote a person-centred approach to clinical decision-making that is focused on supporting recovery in the community.
  • Increase patient satisfaction with hospital services.
  • Encourage future help-seeking behaviours.

The recommendations cover essential areas of practice specific to assessing suicidal thoughts and self-harm by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including:

  • Underlying principles of best practice that support increased cultural responsiveness.
  • Ways to effectively and appropriately engage and interact with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • The risks, needs and strengths to assess that are clinically relevant and reflect the underlying social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • How to ensure formulation of the psychosocial assessment informs culturally appropriate recommendations for care and treatment.
  • Additional recommendations tailored specifically for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The Guideline document has been designed as a reference for clinical practitioners, supervisors and educators to use as part of pre-service training and ongoing professional development.