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Short-Term Suicide Risk Vignettes

*Case study vignettes taken from
Maris, R. W., Berman, A. L., Maltsberger, J. T., & Yufit, R. I. (Eds), (1992).
Assessment and prediction of suicide. New York: Guilford.

And originally cited in

Stelmachers, Z. T., & Sherman, R. E. (1990). Use of case vignettes in suicide
risk assessment. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 20, 65-84.

The assessment of suicide risk is a complicated process. The following vignettes are provided to promote discussion of suicide risk factors, assessment procedures, and intervention strategies. The “answers” are not provided, rather students are encouraged to discuss cases with each other and faculty. Two examples of how discussions may be facilitated are provided.

Vignette Discussion Example

Case 1

37-year-old white female, self-referred. Stated plan is to drive her car off a bridge. Precipitant seems to be verbal abuse by her boss; after talking to her nightly for hours, he suddenly refused to talk to her. As a result, patient feels angry and hurt, threatened to kill herself. She is also angry at her mother, who will not let patient smoke or bring men to their home. Current alcohol level is .15; patient is confused, repetitive, and ataxic. History reveals a previous suicide attempt (overdose) 7 years ago, which resulted in hospitalization. After spending the night at CIC and sobering, patient denies further suicidal intent.

Case 2

16-year-old Native American female, self-referred following an overdose of 12 aspirins. Precipitant: could not tolerate rumors at school that she and another girl are sharing the same boyfriend. Denies being suicidal at this time (“I won’t do it again; I learned my lesson”). Reports that she has always had difficulty expressing her feelings. In the interview, is quiet, guarded, and initially quite reluctant to talk. Diagnostic impression: adjustment disorder.

Case 3

49-year-old white female brought by police on a transportation hold following threats to overdose on aspirin (initially telephoned CIC and was willing to give her address). Patient feels trapped and abused, can’t cope at home with her schizophrenic sister. Wants to be in the hospital and continues to feel like killing herself. Husband indicates that the patient has been threatening to shoot him and her daughter but probably has no gun. Recent arrest for disorderly conduct (threatened police with a butcher knife). History of aspirin overdose 3 years ago. In the interview, patient is cooperative; appears depressed, anxious, helpless, and hopeless. Appetite and sleep are down, and so is her self-esteem. Is described as “anhedonic.” Alcohol level: .12.

Case 4

23-year-od white male, self-referred. Patient bought a gun 2 months ago to kill himself and claims to have the gun and four shells in his car (police found the gun but no shells). Patient reports having planned time and place for suicide several times in the past. States that he cannot live any more with his “emotional pain” since his wife left him3 years ago. This pain has increased during the last week, but the patient cannot pinpoint any precipitant. Patient has a history of chemical dependency, but has been sober for 20 months and currently goes to AA.

Case 5

22-year-old black male referred to CIC from the Emergency Room on a transportation hold. He referred himself to the Emergency Room after making fairly deep cuts on his wrists requiring nine stitches. Current stress is recent breakup with his girlfriend and loss of job. Has developed depressive symptoms for the last 2 months, including social withdrawal, insomnia, anhedonia, and decreased appetite. Blames his sister for the breakup with girlfriend. Makes threats to sister (“I will slice up that bitch, she is dead when I get out”). Patient is an alcoholic who just completed court-ordered chemical dependency treatment lasting 3 weeks. He is also on parole for attempted rape. There is a history of previous suicide attempts and assaultive behavior, which led to the patient being jailed. In the interview, patient is vague regarding recent events and history. He denies intent to kill himself but admits to still being quite ambivalent about it. Diagnostic impression: antisocial personality.

Case 6

19-year-old white male found by roommate in a “sluggish” state following the ingestion of 10 sleeping pills (Sominex) and one bottle of whiskey. Recently has been giving away his possessions and has written a suicide note. After being brought to the Emergency Room, declares that he will do it again. Blood alcohol level: .23. For the last 3 or 4 weeks there has been sleep and appetite disturbance, with a 15-pound weight loss and subjective feelings of depression. Diagnostic impression: adjustment disorder with depressed mood versus major depressive episode. Patient refused hospitalization.

Case 7

30-year-old white male brought from his place of employment by a personnel representative. Patient has been thinking of suicide “all the time” because he “can’t cope.” Has a knot in his stomach; sleep and appetite are down (sleeps only 3 hours per night); and plans either to shoot himself, jump off a bridge, or drive recklessly. Precipitant: constant fighting with his wife leading to a recent breakup (there is a long history of mutual verbal/physical abuse). There is a history of a serious suicide attempt: patient jumped off a ledge and fractured both legs; the precipitant for that attempt was a previous divorce. There is a history of chemical dependency with two courses of treatment. There is no current problem with alcohol or drugs. Patient is tearful, shaking, frightened, feeling hopeless, and at high risk for impulsive acting out. He states that life isn’t worthwhile.