Suicide Risk Assessment
- Can You Do One?

Are you concerned about a problem gambler in your life and interested in pursuing a suicide risk assessment?  When the topic of suicide comes up in relation to problem gambling, many people's first response is "no way, that could never happen."  However, I'm told that the rate of suicide for gamblers is the highest amongst all addictions.  I don't know about you, but this was certainly not what I would have expected.  This was information I received from therapists and doctors that I encountered, and I'm still seeking more specific data on this topic.  Once I do, I will most certainly share it here!

Unless your loved one specifically talks openly and honestly about suicide, I don't know that it's even possible to do a formal and proper suicide risk assessment.  I expect that some professionals will tell you that they can create an assessment based on the information you provide, though, for the most part, without talking face-to-face with someone, I wouldn't deem this approach to be of any value.  People are simply far too complex to analyze in this way.  It definitely is not as straightforward a process as answering the questions that are used to determine if a loved one is a gambler (those are much more straightforward questions).

So, what does it really mean for a loved one to do a suicide risk assessment for a problem gambler?  I personally don't believe that this is possible.  Needless to say, it's certainly not an issue that is easily brushed off, and can sneak up on people with little to no warning.  Why would compulsive gamblers think of suicide?  It seems self-evident, but sometimes reading though the obvious is still a helpful, and even therapeutic exercise.  Consider some of the following possibilities:
  • The sense of loss of control, and impact on one's friends and family can result in deep depression.
  • The downwards emotional spiral that accompanies continually large financial losses can be emotionally traumatizing.
  • Suicide can be seen as a way out to avoid difficult confrontation with loved ones, or creditors (some of whom may even be dangerous).
  • It can be seen as a solution to one's financial issues due to potentially large life insurance payouts.  Some countries, states, or insurance policies in general can include clauses that don't cover suicide, though they often can; knowing your policy is wise.

What do you do if you suspect your loved one may be suicidal?
If you have reason to believe that there's an imminent threat of suicide, you should immediately call 911.  This isn't an issue that you can play games with and "see how it goes."  On the contrary, if it's not an imminent threat, but something of concern to you, you should consult a professional, whether you start with your general medical practitioner or a professional therapist to discuss your concerns.

Keep in mind that there's not much you'll be able to personally do to control the situation.  If someone, particularly an adult, wants to do something, whether it's gambling or to harm oneself, they'll find a way to do it despite any safeguards or controls you try to implement.  Ultimately, it's out of your hands in the long run.

What should you do if your loved ones threatens to kill themselves during a heated argument?
I was instructed by an addiction specialist that if this should happen, whether I believe it to be a genuine threat or not, I should call 911.  They explained that the onus shouldn't be on me to try to figure out whether it's an empty threat in an attempt to control the current argument/situation, or something they're genuinely considering.  i.e. I'm not able to do a suicide risk assessment.  While I'm sure the laws vary, where I live I was told that if the police come to your home and the person in question threatens to kill themselves in their presence, they can forcibly detain them for their own safety.  Of course, detainment is not in and of itself a long term solution to anything.  Ultimately they need to Get Help For Gambling Addiction.

If it's an empty threat, this will teach them that suicide is not something to joke around about, and should be taken very seriously.  After all, it's impossible for a spouse or loved one to judge their state of mind, as we are completely unqualified to do so.  If they do it again, call again.  If it's just an attempt at manipulation, this strategy will quickly teach them that the topic of suicide is not a game to you.

At the end of the day, you can't really do a real suicide risk assessment, but rather, you need to rely on what your gambler is telling you in the moment.  Or if you have a general underlying concern, talk with a professional as soon as possible.

If things are really out of control, you may consider an Addiction Intervention.

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