Three Assessments for Suicide Prevention

This post offers three brief examples of assessments (non-standardized, norm-based, and standardized) for evaluating those at risk of suicide as well as determining factors that may play a role in reducing suicidal intentions.  The construct being measured, therefore, is suicide ideation and intention. In 2013 the average suicide rate in the United States was 113 people per day (Whiston, 2017, p. 153).   A community health assessment for Buncombe County, North Carolina in 2015 concluded that suicide in Buncombe county is rising and as of 2015 the suicide rate was higher than the North Carolina Rates (Buncombe County Community Health Assessment, 2015, p. 20).

With regards to suicide prevention, taking time to engage a client in a conversation about where he or she is at with regards to their propensity and trajectory towards suicidal thoughts may include the non-standardized assessment of discussing the mnemonic device represented in the the following phrase: IS PATH WARM.  Each letter of the phrase represents a guide for counselors in determining the potential risk of a client, please refer to figure 1.1 (Whiston, 2017, p. 154).

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 Whiston (2017) indicates that if the mnemonic assessment reveals there is risk for suicide for the client, the next step is to determine whether the client has a plan to carry out the his or her suicide.

The non-standardized approach of using the mnemonic IS PATH WARM assessment is helpful in providing a guide for the counselor in his or her discussions with a client so as to map out the direction their client seems to be heading with regards to suicide.  This may be considered the ground work or foundation by which other follow-up assessments may add to.  Though non-standardized and consequently subjective, this conversational approach to learning more about what the client is thinking may help build client-counselor trust and establish the client counselor relationship prior to bringing in more normative and standardized assessments.

With regards to a norm-based assessment for determining suicide potential in a client the Suicide Probability Scale provides a 36-item instrument the helps the counselors measure the risk of suicide.  “The scale includes sub scales that assess hopelessness, suicidal ideation, negative self-evaluation, and hostility” (Whiston, 2017, p. 157).  In order to utilize this scale, the counselor must have Masters related to-the-field degree.

An additional and more frequently used standardized assessment for determining suicide is the Beck Depression Inventory-II , which is an assessment focused on depression. “Ponterotto, Pace, and Kavan (1989) identified 73 different measures of depression that researchers or mental health practitioners use” (Whiston, 2017, p.159).  This is assessment may be a preferred standardized assessment as its focus concentrates around depression and it only take the client around 5 minutes to complete, allowing time for the client and counselor to discuss the results almost immediately.  To utilize this assessment also requires the clinician to meet certain educational standards and or certification requirements.

In conclusion, suicide prevention is something that needs awareness in both public and professional arenas in order that the symptoms of suicide do not go unnoticed and are given prompt attention by a professional counselor.

For further reading on the subject of suicide prevention I recommend:


Buncombe County. (2015). WNC Healthy Impact. Buncombe County Community Health Assessment. Buncombe County: Buncombe County Health & Human Services.

Brown, Jarrod & Salvatore, Tony. (2017). Raising Awareness of Suicide Risk. Counseling Today. Retrieved from

Whiston, Susan, C. (2017). Principles and Applications of Assessment in Counseling. Fifth Edition.  Australia: Cengage Learning.