Table of Contents
The SIMPLE STEPS Model (McGlothlin, 2008) for suicide risk assessment provides a simple mnemonic similar to others like SADPERSONS (Patterson, et. al., 1983) or IS PATH WARM (from the American Association of Suicidology). Each of these is correlated with increasing suicide lethality and so this can be a useful short-hand to remember these items.
Suicide risk assessment on the crisis line is mostly concerned with imminent risk, and many suicide screeners designed for lay people may miss important variables in a goal to be simplistic; the SIMPLE STEPS model appears to avoid both of these traps, by providing an assessment tool simple enough to be used in the crisis line environment but comprehensive enough to be used by counsellors or therapists for ongoing monitoring of suicide risk.
Items in the SIMPLE STEPS Model
- Suicidal – Is the individual expressing suicidal ideation?
- Ideation – What is their suicidal intent?
- Method – How detailed and accessible is their suicidal method?
- Perturbation – How strong is their emotional pain
- Loss – Have they experienced actual or perceived losses? (Relationships, material objects)
- Earlier Attempts – What previous attempts has the individual experienced, what happened after those attempts?
- Substance Use – Is the individual abusing drugs, alcohol, or other substances?
- (Lack of) Troubleshooting Skills – Are they able to see alternatives or options other than suicide?
- Emotions / Diagnosis – “Assessment of emotional attributes (hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, loneliness, agitation, depression, and impulsivity) and diagnoses commonly associated with completed suicide (e.g., substance abuse, mood disorders, personality disorders, etc.)” (McGlothlin, et. al., 2016)
- (Lack of) Protective Factors – What is keeping this person safe from suicide? Who are their supports (internal such as personal values and external like people), resources and agencies
- Stressors and Life Events – What has happened in their life to lead them to suicide?
Sharp readers will identify that these elements map very neatly onto the DCIB Model of Suicide Risk Assessment, but perhaps provide a better mnemonic in order to make sure that clinicians who do not have the DCIB in front of them are able to perform that assessment.
Validation of the SIMPLE STEPS Model
McGlothlin, et. al. (2016) used 13,000 calls over six years to a crisis line and correlated the SIMPLE STEPS items with the lethality risk present in that call. One limitation of this study is that it used self-reported (by the helpline worker taking the call) lethality rather than using another evidence-based risk assessment in order to compare with. I am satisfied that McGlothlin addressed this in his limitations section, where he noted the difficulty with using data collected in this manner.
McGlothlin, J. (2008). Developing clinical skills in suicide assessment, prevention and treatment.
Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association
McGlothlin, J., Page, B., & Jager, K. (2016). Validation of the SIMPLE STEPS Model of Suicide Assessment. Journal Of Mental Health Counseling, 38(4), 298-307. doi:10.17744/mehc.38.4.02
Patterson, W.M., Dohn, H.H., Patterson, J. & Patterson, G.A. (1983). “Evaluation of suicidal patients: the SAD PERSONS scale.” Psychosomatics 24(4): 343–5, 348–9. doi:10.1016/S0033-3182(83)73213-5. PMID 6867245