Interviewing prepubertal children about suicidal ideation and behavior

L K Jacobsen, I Rabinowitz, M S Popper, R J Solomon, M S Sokol, C R Pfeffer
Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 1994, 33 (4): 439-52

OBJECTIVE: Much of the literature on assessment of suicidal children has focused on identifying risk factors associated with suicidal ideation and behavior in this population. Unique problems encountered in interviewing prepubertal children about suicidal ideation and behavior are examined in this paper.

METHOD: Observations of problems encountered in interviewing prepubertal children about suicidal ideation and behavior were gleaned in the context of interviews of children admitted to a child psychiatry inpatient unit and interviews of the parents of these children.

RESULTS: Unique problems include difficulties in assessment of suicidal intent, impact of cognitive development, particularly of the concept of death, interaction between current emotional state and memory of previous suicidal episodes, characteristics of play associated with suicidal states, effects of parents' attitudes toward assessment on information gathering, and the impact of certain risk factors on cognition and behavior during the interview.

CONCLUSION: Interviewing children about suicidal ideation and behavior necessitates that the clinician attend to multiple elements of the interview simultaneously. These interviews are further complicated by the stressful thoughts and feelings that can be raised in both clinician and child in reaction to exploring the child's suicidal ideation and behavior. Additional research is needed to refine the process of reliable interviewing of children about suicidal ideation and behavior and to develop instruments both to quantitate the different elements of these interviews and to guide the clinicians conducting them.

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