Does assessing suicidality frequently and repeatedly cause harm? A randomized control study

Mary Kate Law, R. Michael Furr, Elizabeth Mayfield Arnold, Malek Mneimne, Caroline Jaquett, William Fleeson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Assessing suicidality is common in mental health practice and is fundamental to suicide research. Although necessary, there is significant concern that such assessments have unintended harmful consequences. Using a longitudinal randomized control design, the authors evaluated whether repeated and frequent assessments of suicide-related thoughts and behaviors negatively affected individuals, including those at-risk for suicide-related outcomes. Adults (N = 282), including many diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD), were recruited through psychiatric outpatient clinics and from the community at large, and were randomly assigned to assessment groups. A control assessment group responded to questions regarding negative psychological experiences several times each day during a 2-week main observation phase. During the same observation period, an intensive suicide assessment group responded to the same questions, along with questions regarding suicidal behavior and ideation. Negative psychological outcomes were measured during the main observation phase (for BPD symptoms unrelated to suicide and for BPD-relevant emotions) and/or at the end of each week during the main observation phase and monthly for 6 months thereafter (for all outcomes, including suicidal ideation and behavior). Results revealed little evidence that intensive suicide assessment triggered negative outcomes, including suicidal ideation or behavior, even among people with BPD. A handful of effects did reach or approach significance, though these were temporary and nonrobust. However, given the seriousness of some outcomes, the authors recommend that researchers or clinicians who implement experience sampling methods including suicide-related items carefully consider the benefits of asking about suicide and to inform participants about possible risks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1171-1181
Number of pages11
JournalPsychological Assessment
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Experience sampling
  • Iatrogenic effects
  • Suicidality
  • Suicide assessment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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