Bereavement Risk Assessment Tool (BRAT)


Bereavement Risk Assessment Tool (BRAT) Sample
Bereavement Risk Assessment Tool (BRAT) Sample

From September 2012 to April 2013, I had the pleasure of completing an 400 hour field placement with Durham Hospice (now VON Durham Hospice). During the first 200 hours (my first semester), I completed the Fundamentals of Hospice Palliative Care Course, learned how to perform psychosocial assessments and assisted in the facilitation of a Day Hospice group.

My second semester and final 200 hours, I completed an 8-week Bereavement Volunteer Peer Support Program that focused on the fundamentals of providing individual and group peer support to grieving individuals. That’s where I learned about this tool, the Bereavement Risk Assessment Tool (BRAT).

The BRAT was developed by Victoria Hospice Society to help “communicate personal, interpersonal and situational factors that may place a caregiver or family member at greater risk for a significantly negative bereavement experience” (Victoria Hospice Society, n.d.)

The version of the BRAT I worked with is the 2008 version, though the 2013 manual is available for purchase on the Victoria Hospice website.

Bereavement Risk Assessment Tool (BRAT) Items

The BRAT is organized into 11 domains for a total of 40 items. Each is scored on a yes/no basis and a risk level (unmitigated and mitigated.) The “unmitigated risk” level is the raw score from the first 10 domains, while the “mitigated risk level” takes into account the 11th domain. The domains are listed below, though the items themselves are not, out of respect for the author’s copyright:

  1. Kinship
  2. Caregiver
  3. Mental Health
  4. Coping
  5. Spirituality/Religion
  6. Concurrent Stressors
  7. Previous Bereavements
  8. Supports & Relationships
  9. Children & Youth
  10. Circumstances Involving the Patient, the Care or the Death
  11. Protective Factors Supporting Positive Bereavement Outcomes

Scoring the Bereavement Risk Assessment Tool

The BRAT is scored using an Excel sheet that automatically calculates the correct score and prepares the document for printing. Documentation information includes the date, the assessor and client’s names, an ID number (e.g. case/file number) and the name of the deceased.

Five Levels of Risk

  • Risk Level 1: No Known Risk
  • Risk Level 2: Minimal Risk
  • Risk Level 3: Low Risk
  • Risk Level 4: Moderate Risk
  • Risk Level 5: High Risk

Research Support for the Bereavement Risk Assessment Tool

The BRAT has received some, though very minimal, research exploration. Rose et. al. (2011) explored the inter-rater reliability of the BRAT and found it adequate (inter-class correlation of 0.68.) Qualitative responses indicated it was a useful tool for assessment of bereavement risk.

The lack of other published work significantly limits the usability of these tool in a research environment. Other reviews (e.g. this presentation by Bill Palmer) fail to identify the BRAT in a list of bereavement assessment tools which suggests it may not be well-known outside of the Canadian Hospice environment.

Other Bereavement Risk Assessment Tools

These tool recommendations come from Bill Palmer’s presentation:

  • Adult Attitude to Grief Scale (AAG)
  • Core Bereavement Items (CBI)
  • Grief Evaluation Measure (GEM)
  • Inventory of Traumatic Grief (ITG)
  • Texas Revised Inventory of Grief (TRIG)

Other Resources


Rose, C., Wainwright, W., Downing, M., & Lesperance, M. (2011). Inter-rater reliability of the Bereavement Risk Assessment Tool. Palliative & Supportive Care, 9(2), 153-164. doi:10.1017/S1478951511000022

Victoria Hospice Society. (n.d.) “Clinical Tools | Victoria Hospice Society” Retrieved on October 17, 2016 from

Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2016), "Bereavement Risk Assessment Tool (BRAT)," retrieved on May 24, 2019 from
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Best Practices in Suicide Postvention


Suicide postvention might look like an odd word. We often use the word “prevention” to refer to things that are designed to stop (prevent) other negative situation or states from occurring. Postvention, then, refers to the things we do after a suicide has occurred. In this context, it often refers to the actions that a school should take in the aftermath of a suicide death but can be used in any context (workplace, family, etc.) where individuals are left grieving a suicide death.

Development of a protocol to respond to suicides will ensure the process is handled consistently and reduce anxiety for all involved. (Carter & Brooks, 1990; King, 1999)

General Best Practices

  • Provide immediate debriefing and information to survivors to reduce the impact of the loss (Cox et. al., 2012; Parsons, 1996; Celotta, 1995; King, 1999)
  • Identify individuals at high risk and reach out to them (Celotta, 1995; Carter & Brooks, 1990)
  • Ensure the media provides a respectful response to the suicide that acknowledges its impact without glorifying it (Bohanna & Wang, 2012; MediaWise, 2003)

Types of Post Loss Support

Forde & Devaney (2006) identify three types of post-loss support. The first is an “expert”, a clinician or professional grief support worker. This does not require someone to be a counsellor but they must have education and training in grief work. The second expert is a “veteran”, someone with lived experience like a suicide survivor. The third kind of support is a “fellow participant”, someone else who is going through the same loss as you at the same time.

Suicide Contagion

Suicide contagion or “cluster suicides” are a phenomenon where a number of suicides occur close in time (days, weeks, or months) after each other, often because of people identifying with the deceased. (Cheng, Silenzio & Caine, 2014) This can occur both as the result of someone they know (like a classmate or colleague) dying, or someone famous.

Two examples of celebrity suicides that increased suicide behaviour were Marilyn Monroe (Goleman, 1987) and Robin Williams (Schonfield, 2015). In Monroe’s case, a spike of actual suicides were documented while in Williams’ case, suicide hotlines saw their usage increase dramatically in the days and weeks of his death.

A number of strategies identified by Cox et. al. (2012), some of which are detailed below, have shown support for limiting contagion:

  • Development of a community response plan
  • Educational/psychological debriefings
  • Counseling for high-risk individuals
  • Screening of high-risk individuals
  • Promotion of health recovery and prevention
  • Responsible media reporting

Media Guidelines

There are a number of media guidelines around how to report that someone has died by suicide. One example include the UK standards created by the MediaWise Trust involving consultation with journalists, suicidologists and survivors. Examples of items in the MediaWise standards (2003):

  • Avoid sensational headlines, images and language
  • Publicising details of suicide methods can encourage imitation
  • Avoid speculation, especially about ‘celebrity’ suicides
  • Consider context – suicides in institutions deserve investigation
  • Challenge ‘myths’ about suicide

A review by Bohanna & Wang (2012) documented a number of countries where successful implementation of media reporting standards had reduced cases of imitative suicide standards, suggesting they had been effective.

School and Higher Education

Elementary and secondary are the sources of most of the existing research on postvention, and for good reason. Adolescent suicides are the second cause of death for Canadian teens behind car crashes (Statistics Canada, 2011).

It’s important to explain to students there is no right or wrong way to feel, and to emphasize that suicide is most commonly the result of treatable mental illnesses. (Parsons, 1996) This reduces the likelihood of contagion and may improve the number of students who reach out for help.

Examples of interventions after a suicide after provided by Carter & Brooks (1990) and similar to those recommended by King (1999):

  • Evaluation and therapy for survivors
  • In-service training for school staff members
  • Support Groups
  • Community Resources
  • Media management

Short (8-12 session) group counselling is the format recommended by Carter & Brooks for evaluation and therapy of survivors. Often these groups focus first on the survivors closest to the deceased and then “fan out” to wider parts of the school community that are affected.

Celotta (1995) makes a number of recommendations for the few days after a school suicide:

  • Provide debriefing to students in the immediate aftermath of the suicide, for an extended period on the first day and then shorter but regular periods in the later days
  • Provide teachers with information about the plans for the next couple days and information on how to identify risk factors in youth
  • Provide information to students in small groups and ensure they are able to ventilate their feelings
  • Do not provide students information on why the student died or the exact method, to protect the privacy of the family
  • Confirm that while many people think about suicide and death, that suicide is not a normal reaction to stress suicidal behaviour is not the most effective way of handling stressful situations (Oct 11, 2016 – See the comments section for a discussion of this point.)

Secondary Gain

It’s also important for staff to identify and eliminate opportunities for “secondary gain”, these are opportunities for students to receive attention and extra motivation for them to enact suicidal behaviours. (Callahan, 1996)

Examples of secondary gains can include students being allowed time off during class, being given special privileges by staff or counsellors and being given a “cachet” or status by anyone involved in the school.


One of the most misunderstood (and possibly researched elements) of suicide postvention is the idea of memorials for the deceased. Memorials must balance two competing factors: the need to prevent contagion and the need to allow survivors the opportunity to appropriately grieve and remember the deceased.

Physical memorials such as plaques or special trees should be avoided. (Fineran, 2012; Callahan, 1996) As well, do not hold additional events (assemblies, etc.) for students that would not be held for a student dying of an accident or other sudden death. Fineran notes that there is no empirical support for or against different types of memorials, but that they may contribute to contagion if not closely monitored.

Veterans / Police

While military veterans have, for many years, had suicide rates lower than the general population (Jones, 1994), this trend has begun to reverse. Veterans, both police and military often face unique challenges that may make them more likely to attempt and die by suicide.

Veterans often present with higher rates of mental health issues than the general population because of deployment (Pare & Radford, 2013), and use firearms in suicide attempts more frequently (Kaplan, McFarland & Huguet, 2009).

Although research on postvention specifically related to veterans is limited, there have been some reviews.

Carr (2011) reviewed a suicide in Iraq and what actions were taken. In that case, standard traumatic incident guidelines in use by the US Army were followed, with the needs of the Company affected prioritized.

Soldiers were told about the suicide in small groups, while leaders were told to keep watch on high-risk soldiers. Referrals were given to soldiers experiencing acute stress responses (including the soldier who found the suicided soldier), while other soldiers with existing mental health problems found them exacerbated by the suicide.

These responses are all consistent with the existing postvention protocols, with the added concern that counselling on lethal means may become more important because of possession of firearms.

Ghahramanlou-Holloway (2011), responding to Carr’s paper noted that, especially in military circles the number of survivors may be underestimated, while Pearson (2011) expanded on the idea of suicide bereavement being a mix of grief and trauma, and the utility of employing normal military combat stress control techniques to manage it.

There is no research that I am aware of that explores police postvention as of yet, and only limited research regarding police suicide prevention programs, such as the kind explored by Mishara & Martin (2012).


Suicide postvention is a developing field but there is significant evidence that activities to prevent contagion and further trauma work. Additional research should be undertaken to explore specifc populations, such as police, and to evaluate the effectiveness of postvention activities like memorials and debriefing sessions.


Bohanna, I., & Wang, X. (2012). Media guidelines for the responsible reporting of suicide: A review of effectiveness. Crisis: The Journal Of Crisis Intervention And Suicide Prevention, 33(4), 190-198. doi:10.1027/0227-5910/a000137

Callahan, J. (1996) Negative Effects of a School Suicide Postvention Program — A Case Example. Crisis. (3)108-115

Carter, B.F., Brooks, A. (1990) Suicide postvention: Crisis or opportunity?. School Counselor. 37(5)

Carr, R.B. (2011) When a Soldier Commits Suicide in Iraq: Impact on Unit and Caregivers. Psychiatry. 74(2)

Celotta, B. (1995) The aftermath of suicide: Postvention in a school setting. Journal of Mental Health Counseling. 17(4)

Cheng, Q., Li, H., Silenzio, V., & Caine, E. D. (2014). Suicide Contagion: A Systematic Review of Definitions and Research Utility. Plos ONE, 9(9), 1-9. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0108724

Cox, G.R., Robinson, J., Williamson, M., Lockley, A., Cheung, Y.T.D., Pirkis, J.  (2012) Suicide Clusters in Young People Evidence for the Effectiveness of Postvention. Crisis. 33(4) 208-214 doi: : 10.1027/0227-5910/a000144

Forde, S., Devaney, C. (2006) Postvention: A Community-based Family Support Initiative and Model of Responding to Tragic Events, Including Suicide. Child Care in Practice. (12)1. 53-61. doi: 10.1080/13575270500526303

Fineran, K. (2012) Suicide Postvention in Schools: The Role of the School Counselor. Journal of Professional Counseling. 39(2)

Ghahramanlou-Holloway, M. (2011) Lessons Learned From a Soldier’s Suicide in Iraq. Psychiatry. 74(2)

Goleman, D. (1987). Pattern of Death: Copycat Suicides Among Youths. New York Times, Mar. 18.

Jones, F.D. (1994) Military Psychiatry: Preparing in Peace for War. pp. 103. Office of the Surgeon General: Washington, DC

Kaplan, M.S., McFarland, B.H., Huguet, N. (2009) Firearm suicide among veterans in the general population: findings from the national violent death reporting system.. Journal of Trauma. 67(3):503-7. doi: 10.1097/TA.0b013e3181b36521.

King, K. (1999) High School Suicide Suicide Postvention: Recommendations For an Effective Program. American Journal of Health Studies. 15(4).

MediaWise. (2003) The Media and Suicide. Accessed electronically from on October 24, 2015.

Mishara, B.L., Martin, N. (2012) Effects of a Comprehensive Police Suicide Prevention Program. Crisis. 33(3) 162-168. DOI: 10.1027/0227-5910/a000125

Pare, J., Radford, M. (2013) Mental Health in the Canadian Forces and Among Veterans. Current Issues in Mental Health in Canada. Library of Parliament. Accessed electronically from on Nov 1, 2015.

Parsons, R.D. (1996) Student suicide: The counselor’s postvention role. Elementary School Guidance & Counseling, 31(1)

Pearson, J. (2011) Implications for Civilian Postvention Research and Practice. Psychiatry. 74(2)

Schonfield, Z. Robin Williams Left ‘Unprecedented’ Mark on Suicide Hotlines. Newsweek. Aug. 11.

Statistics Canada. (2011)  The 10 leading causes of death, 2011 CANSIM Table 102-0561. Accessed electronically from on October 24 2015.


Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2015), "Best Practices in Suicide Postvention," retrieved on May 24, 2019 from
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