Sample agency practices for responding to client suicide


(For resources, this is the publication date. For programs, this is the date posted.)


Sung, Jeffrey C.
Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention

These guidelines and recommendations are intended to help identify immediate responsibilities and potential resources and sources of support following a client suicide. Since every case is unique and presents its own issues, these are intended only as general guidelines, to be modified as appropriate for the individual situation.

The primary author of these sample practices, Jeffrey C. Sung, MD, is a clinical instructor at the University of Washington Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and co-instructor of Wellspring Counseling’s “Working with Suicidal Clients” workshop.  These guidelines were developed with the help of Sue Eastgard, MSW, Director of Training for Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention at the University of Washington and R. Keith Myers, LICSW, Vice President of Clinical and Training Services for Wellspring Counseling.  We received valuable feedback from Katherine A. Comtois, PhD; Sharon Farmer, MD; Nina Gutin, PhD, co-chair of the American Association of Suicidology’s Clinician Survivor Task Force; Glenette Olvera, LICSW; and Edward Rynearson, MD, medical director of the Violent Death Bereavement Society.

The suicide death of a client or patient is a dreaded potential outcome in mental health treatment. Death by suicide requires an agency to respond in a manner that provides support for the clinical team while fulfilling regulatory requirements.  Agency responsibilities include communication within and outside the organization, reporting the death, risk management, administrative case review (morbidity/morality conference), media coverage, staff support and education.   A major challenge for an agency is the balancing of potentially conflicting priorities between safety-focused administrative needs for information and staff-focused emotional needs for support.

Program Objective: organizations that use Sample Agency Practices for Responding to Client Suicide will have increased knowledge of immediate responsibilities, potential resources, and sources of support in the aftermath of a client suicide.