Evaluating Medium-Term and Long-Term Suicide Risk

Measuring the risk of a suicide entails evaluating the probability that someone will attempt to kill him/herself in the next two years.

If I told you that your father or other close family member might kill themselves at some point in the next two years, you might not run to the nearest emergency ward to get an ambulance. But it would mean that you’d spend more time with your relative, get closer, talk, figure out what was going on inside their thoughts.

You’d help your loved one overcome their internal demons, work to pull them out of their depression, etc. You’d follow your loved one’s progress closely. You’d keep track of events in their life.

In short, you’d do everything you could to ensure that their depressed state didn’t slip into a suicidal state. You’d provide any help you could think of to get your loved one to fall back in love with life. The risk level rises as the depression deepens. Factors aggravating risk include social loneliness; poverty; absence of external resources; poor health; alcohol and/or drug consumption; a history of previous suicide attempts…

Given our long-term perspective, any risk evaluation that doesn’t foresee an immediate, short-term danger is useful.

No one can see everything going on inside another person’s mind – indeed, we never quite know much of what is going on inside our own. A person can go through a divorce or a job loss and present no suicide risk at all. A whole host of factors must be considered. Keep the person’s whole life history and personality in mind.

Book excerpt from Quebec Suicide Prevention Handbook (2014), Éditions TNT

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