How to Identify Suicidal People:

A Systematic Approach to Risk Assessment

Thomas W. White, PhD

Offering the first state-of-the-art system for conducting effective, accurate, sensitive and legally defensible suicide risk assessments, this book is an invaluable reference for all mental health professionals who work with potentially suicidal people.


It is a dangerous myth that patient/client suicide is a rare event in the careers of mental health practitioners. In fact, studies have shown that psychiatrists have a startling 50 percent chance of suffering the blow of a patient's suicide and clinical psychologists have a 1 in 5 chance. Even students run a high risk. For psychiatric residents, patient suicide is actually considered a common occurrence and psychologists in graduate clinical programs also run a high risk of encountering a patient's suicide.


The emotional upheaval of losing a patient in this tragic way, coupled with the fact that financially crushing, career-destroying malpractice lawsuits are currently the most common cause of litigation against health care practitioners (and/or the institution that employs them) makes it clear that those responsible for identifying and evaluating suicide potential must conduct suicide risk assessments that are both clinically sound and legally defensible — for the safety of their patients and for their own emotional and professional well-being. »»



In an effort to help practitioners with the daunting task of evaluating risk potential in their patients (a misdiagnosis can very well mean death), Dr. Thomas White, a clinical psychologist with over 35 years of experience in suicide assessment, has developed an entirely novel method — an actual system — of conducting risk assessments that are clinically sound, professionally responsible and legally defensible.


This is the first attempt ever to simplify and organize the risk assessment process into a logical, structured format, with practical guidelines and specific step-by-step instruction that can be followed from the beginning of the assessment to the end. Embracing a multidimensional, biopsychosocial approach, the system addresses all of the risk factors and clinical techniques that make up a thorough and insightful risk assessment.


Because assessments that follow this system are driven by objective data about the client that are based on well-researched risk factors, clinicians will feel confident that they have based their determinations of risk on information that is accepted by most professionals (and courts) instead of on their own personal assumptions and theories.


An important and pioneering addition to the scant literature on suicide risk assessment, this new system will make the task of identifying suicide potential more accurate, reliable and safe.




Suicide Risk Assessment: The Central Issues

The HELPER Risk Assessment System

Historical Factors

Environmental Factors

Psychological Factors

Evaluation of Suicide Risk Potential

Reporting Risk: The Documentation Process

Legal Issues Involved in Suicide Litigation



Sample Risk Assessment Reports

A Low-Risk Example

A High-Risk Example


Softcover. 224 pages. ISBN-10: 0-914783-8. ISBN-13: 978-0914783-83-1. LIST PRICE: $27.95