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Suicidal thoughts in bereaved patients

While it is appropriate to have a case-finding approach to suicidal thoughts and behaviour in bereaved patients, there is no data to show that screening for suicide in primary care reduces mortality.25,69 Additionally, predicting which patients with suicidal thoughts will go on to attempt suicide cannot be achieved with a high degree of sensitivity or specificity.25

Assessing suicide risk involves direct and unambiguous questioning about suicide ideation, plan, and intent. While patients may be reluctant to bring up thoughts of suicide on their own, those with suicidal ideation will generally tell their clinicians about such thoughts when asked.25,70

When patients express thoughts of suicide:

  • acknowledge the patient’s distress and communicate concern
  • elicit information (plan, intent and psychosocial factors contributing to thoughts)
  • clearly articulate a treatment plan and/or structured follow-up.71

This video was developed by the Black Dog Institute as part of their Advanced Training in Suicide Prevention, which is accredited with the GPMHSC as Mental Health Continuing Professional Development (MH CPD).


  1. Schrieber J, Culpepper L. Suicide ideation and behavior in adults. UpToDate, 2016.  [Accessed 17 January 2016].
  2. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Summaries for patients: Screening for suicide risk in adolescents, adults, and older adults in primary care. Ann Intern Med 2014;160(10):I–22.
  3. Burke TA, Hamilton JL, Cohen JN, Stange JP, Alloy LB. Identifying a physical indicator of suicide risk: Non-suicidal self-injury scars predict suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. Compr Psychiatry 2016;65:79–87.
  4. Hunter Institute of Mental Health. Summary of the literature for discussing suicide. Newcastle: HIMH, 2012.


After suicide: A resource for GPs