First steps towards an alternative suicide risk screening tool: Navigating risk assessment and encouraging life-sustaining conversations— Carly Forster and Rina Taub


This paper explores preferred ways of working in relation to suicide screening in situations where this is a requirement of professional practice. We describe our concerns about how approaches to ‘suicide risk assessment’ were affecting our work and the young people we were required to assess. We came to see the assessment process as an intervention of itself, with the potential for negative consequences for young people, workers and the therapeutic relationship. In response, we drew on a narrative and post-structuralist framework to develop an alternative set of assessment questions. Our questionnaire is intended to scaffold conversations that externalise the problem, elicit people’s life-sustaining practices, and enable assessment of distress and suicidal thoughts. The questionnaire has so far been trialled by a young person and psychologist in Sydney, and an adult and mental health worker in Singapore. We present our findings about these insiders’ experiences of the questionnaire. We hope this article will invite readers to connect to curiosity about ways of having conversations that open up space for people to speak of despair, and questions about living, in ways that are respectful and encouraging of life-sustaining steps.