Self-Perceived Competence in Working with Suicidal Patients

November 07, 2014

News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark Research

A survey in Portugal revealed that 89 percent of a sample of psychiatrists, psychologists, and general practitioners (GPs) who had worked with suicidal patients felt competent to assess suicide risk. Fifty percent felt they had been adequately trained to work with suicidal patients. However, only 19 percent had actually been trained to work with suicidal patients. The authors suggest that despite the perceptions of competence among these health professionals, their research supports the need for more training in managing and treating suicide risk, especially for GPs.

Evidence supporting the need for training included the finding that “health professionals with specific training in suicide have fewer difficulties [working with suicidal patients] than health professionals without specific training.” The difficulties most frequently cited by health professionals were those “related to the lack of specific training and lack of technical and theoretical knowledge” – specifically protocols for assessing and intervening in suicidal behaviors. General Practitioners had, on average, both the least training and the most difficulty in working with suicidal patients.

Supporting the need for training is the fact that while a substantial majority of health professionals believed they could assess suicide risk, a smaller percentage rated their training to work with suicidal patients as sufficient. The survey showed differences among the three professions studied; while 88 percent of psychiatrists felt adequately trained to work with suicidal patients, this was true for only 48 percent of psychologists and 17 percent of GPs.

The data also revealed that professionals whose patients had made more suicide attempts had fewer difficulties in working with suicidal patients. According to the authors, this finding suggests that training in suicidal assessment and management should include experience-based components.

This summary based on: Rothes, I.A., Henriques, M.R., Leal, J.B., & Lemos, M.S. (2014). Facing a patient who seeks help after a suicide attempt: The difficulties of health professionals. Crisis 35(2): 110-122.

SPRC Resource Note

Assessing and Managing Suicide Risk

Assessing and Managing Suicide Risk (AMSR): Core Competencies for Mental Health Professionals, SPRC’s one-day training for mental health professionals, increases participant knowledge, confidence, and competence in assessing and managing suicidal patients. For information on hosting a workshop in your area, contact the AMSR coordinator at