Better Mental Health Training in Suicide Risk Assessment Needed For Suicide Prevention

Every day in this country, more than 100 people end their lives—an average of one person every 14 minutes—and the numbers are going up each year. Between 1999 and 2009, suicides in this country increased by 12%—a shocking statistic. Second only to the tragedy of those numbers is the sad truth that many members of the mental health profession whose constituency includes those who may be at risk of suicide do not possess the needed skills to competently treat such individuals. Psychiatrists, psychologists, marriage and family therapists and social workers alike should be able to recognize every suicide warning sign in a patient struggling with suicidal tendencies or suicidal ideation. The harsh reality, however, is that due to glaringly limited training of mental health professionals in the assessment and management of suicidal patients, many lives are cut short.

The problem of insufficient tutelage is complex and widespread. Several studies have shown that, while most psychiatrists receive some form of training in suicide risk assessment and intervention, it is often in passive formats such as seminars and observation, rather than via skill development workshops. For other mental health professionals, suicide assessment and care training is even more woefully lacking. Though surveys have shown that 97% of psychologists-in-training and 87% of social workers had provided care to at least one patient with some form of suicidal behavior, these practitioners typically spend a fraction of their education learning how to help patients with suicidal urges. The dearth of professional training in this specific field has become a dire situation in this country, and many experts are calling for an overhaul of the entire mental health services educational system.

Texas suicide lawyer Skip Simpson recently co-authored an extremely informative report on this topic for the American Association of Suicidology entitled “Preventing Suicide through Improved Training in Suicide Risk Assessment and Care: An American Association of Suicidology Task Force Report Addressing Serious Gaps in U.S. Mental Health Training.” According to the article, the problem is not only a case of insufficient training, it also pertains to the competence and ethics of each individual mental health worker.

“In fact,” the report attests, “over the years, numerous authors have specifically called into question the ethics of mental health professionals who, without adequate training, provide service to suicidal patients. Each of the mental health disciplines has ethical codes which stipulate, in slightly different verbiage, that mental health professionals should not provide services that are beyond their area of competence. Yet, a majority of mental health professionals will provide services to potentially suicidal patients for whom they are ill-equipped, and, most importantly, potentially incompetent to treat.”

Any family that has suffered a loss due to suicide—whether it was a young person who was bullied, a hospital inpatient or a mental health facility resident—needs to establish what level of expertise their loved one’s mental health service providers possessed at the time treatment was administered. If a psychiatrist, psychologist, family therapist or clinical social worker did not have proper mental health training in assessment, care and intervention for potentially suicidal patients, he or she may not have been qualified to offer advice. Should a suicide have subsequently taken place, the family may have legal recourse, including the right to seek compensation, and should consult with a top suicide personal injury attorney. Without corrective action in the courts, it is less likely the mental health industry will fix the problem of poor training.

For a thorough examination of the issue of training, read the full report. And for diligent, knowledgeable legal advocacy, the experts at the Law Offices of Skip Simpson have the wisdom and compassion their clients need in times of distress and crisis. Skip Simpson can fight for the rights of anyone who has suffered from the pain of loss due to a suicide, inpatient suicide or mental health malpractice. Seek the guidance and experience of Skip Simpson. Call us at 214-618-8222 or complete our online contact form to schedule a free consultation.

The Law Offices of Skip Simpson
2591 Dallas Parkway, Suite 300
Frisco, Texas 75034


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