Reformulating Suicide Risk Formulation: From Prediction to Prevention

Acad Psychiatry. 2016 Aug;40(4):623-9. doi: 10.1007/s40596-015-0434-6. Epub 2015 Dec 14.


Psychiatrists-in-training typically learn that assessments of suicide risk should culminate in a probability judgment expressed as "low," "moderate," or "high." This way of formulating risk has predominated in psychiatric education and practice, despite little evidence for its validity, reliability, or utility. We present a model for teaching and communicating suicide risk assessments without categorical predictions. Instead, we propose risk formulations which synthesize data into four distinct judgments to directly inform intervention plans: (1) risk status (the patient's risk relative to a specified subpopulation), (2) risk state (the patient's risk compared to baseline or other specified time points), (3) available resources from which the patient can draw in crisis, and (4) foreseeable changes that may exacerbate risk. An example case illustrates the conceptual shift from a predictive to a preventive formulation, and we outline steps taken to implement the model in an academic psychiatry setting. Our goal is to inform educational leaders, as well as individual educators, who can together cast a prevention-oriented vision in their academic programs.

Keywords: Assessment psychiatric services; Education; Educational leadership; Risk management; Suicide prevention; Suicide risk.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Psychiatry / education*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Management
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data
  • Suicide Prevention*