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Australas Psychiatry. 2004 Dec;12(4):352-60.

Changeability, confidence, common sense and corroboration: comprehensive suicide risk assessment.

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Area Mental Health, Macquarie Hospital, North Ryde, NSW, Australia.



The authors, in collaboration with NSW Health, have recently developed a comprehensive suicide risk assessment framework. The present paper describes key concepts in the assessment of suicide risk by mental health professionals.


A framework for conducting a comprehensive suicide risk assessment was derived from the literature, incident analysis and clinical experience. The framework underwent a consultation process involving clinicians in NSW area mental health services. The aim was to provide clinicians with a standardized conceptual map for the assessment of suicide risk. A MEDLINE search was conducted for publications dealing with 'suicide' and 'suicide risk assessment' from 1980 to 2002. The recommendations from sentinel event reviews conducted in a NSW area mental health service in the period 1999-2002 were reviewed. The lessons from a visit to a coroner's relatives support group for people who had been bereaved by suicide also informed the development of the guidelines.


A framework is proposed for the assessment of suicide risk. The framework promotes a reflective style of practice, encouraging clinicians to evaluate their assessment and its limitations. Risk assessment is always undertaken as part of a full clinical assessment and an evaluation of the person's current predicament and psychosocio-cultural context. The concepts of changeability, assessment confidence, common sense and the importance of corroboration are incorporated in the framework.


Mental health clinicians can be guided by a framework in suicide risk assessment and documentation. The assessment of suicide risk can generate a suicide risk rating for which minimum standards of care can be mandated.

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