Suicide

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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How are suicidal thoughts and behaviors assessed?

The risk assessment for suicidal thoughts and behaviors performed by mental-health professionals often involves an evaluation of the presence, frequency, severity, and duration of suicidal feelings in the individuals they treat as part of a comprehensive evaluation of the person's mental health. Therefore, in addition to asking questions about family mental-health history and about the symptoms of a variety of emotional problems (for example, anxiety, depression, mood swings, bizarre thoughts, substance abuse, eating disorders, and any history of being traumatized), practitioners frequently ask the people they evaluate about any past or present suicidal thoughts (ideations), dreams, intent, and plans. If the individual has ever attempted suicide, information about the circumstances surrounding the attempt, as well as the level of dangerousness of the method and the outcome of the attempt, may be explored. Any other history of violent behavior might be evaluated. The person's current circumstances, like recent stressors (for example, end of a relationship, family problems), sources of support, and accessibility of weapons are often probed. What treatment the person may be receiving and how he or she has responded to treatment recently and in the past, are other issues mental-health professionals tend to explore during an evaluation.

Sometimes professionals assess suicide risk by using an assessment scale. One such scale is called the SAD PERSONS Scale, which identifies risk factors for suicide as follows:

  • Sex (male)
  • Age younger than 19 or older than 45 years of age
  • Depression (severe enough to be considered clinically significant)
  • Previous suicide attempt or received mental-health services of any kind
  • Excessive alcohol or other drug use
  • Rational thinking lost
  • Separated, divorced, or widowed (or other ending of significant relationship)
  • Organized suicide plan or serious attempt
  • No or little social support
  • Sickness or chronic medical illness
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/31/2016

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