Risk Assessment

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The Conversation

As a “Six Man” your primary task will be connecting with your buddy “Joe.” That initial conversation is crucial as it lays down the groundwork for future interaction. In this conversation you will be looking for red flags, particularly suicidal thoughts or tendencies.

Things to remember when calling your buddy, Joe:

  • You really want to get Joe talking. Pray that you will hear with God’s ears. Pray that you will have the words that will open doors through any walls they have built up.
  • Keep your responses short; not short like “yes,” “no,” but not long-winded. Give Joe the space to respond.
  • Do not preach. If you share Scripture, ask permission first: Joe, I was reading a passage in the Bible that seems to fit what we are talking about. Do you mind if I read it to you? Perhaps, you could ask him if he remembers your favorite chaplain. Mention something you learned from him and see where that leads the conversation.
  • Do not dismiss or minimize Joe’s feelings about his state in life. Listen and acknowledge them. If possible bring up a different perspective for him to consider.
  • Do not condemn. That includes condemning or judging Joe, yourself, your commanding officer, the military, the government, etc. If Joe goes off on his favorite issue of the day, just listen, and then steer the conversation back to Joe and how he is doing. (See the story of the woman at the well in John 4 for an example of how Jesus dealt with “rabbit trails.”)
  • Wherever possible, use your own experiences to connect with Joe. (You know, Joe, I have been having these nightmares, remembering what happened at -x-. Do you have those too? What do you do about them?)
  • Consider how you are going to open the conversation. What are you going to tell Joe about why you are calling? One suggestion is to just directly reference the article in the New York Times about the battalion and how that impacted you. Ask if Joe saw it.

Framework for Assessing Suicide Risk

This content comes from Dr. Richard Joiner’s book, “Why People Die By Suicide.” It is not a definitive, automated set of questions, but provides a framework in which to view the person’s responses.

NOTE: This is NOT suicide crisis intervention training. This is a high level scoping out of the terrain. If you feel your buddy is even moderately at risk, pursue getting professional help immediately. (See “Critical Action”)

Acquired Capability

To assess acquired capability to enact lethal self-injury, two factors deserve particular weight:

  1. A history of multiple suicide attempts
  2. The specific nature of suicidal symptoms, in particular whether they include resolved plans and preparations or suicidal desire

Possible questions: What do you think about suicide yourself? Are you feeling like it would be better if you ended your life now? How often do you feel that way? Have you ever tried it? Do you have a gun or other means of taking your life right at hand?

Feelings of Burdensomeness and Thwarted Belongingness

These feelings can be fluid. Your buddy may feel fine today but next week something happens and they are on the precipice. This is one reason why just one contact point will likely not be enough. As you re-establish connection with your buddy, you will begin to see patterns and issues.

Possible questions: [need to come up with good questions. ed.]


Asking questions about the following topics can illuminate your buddy’s state of mind and also what resources he has available to him. This discussion can also remind your buddy that he does have other options. If he doesn’t seem to have any positive assets available, pray and ask if you can help him find them.

  • Faith in God
  • Battle Buddy
  • Family
  • Counselor/therapist
  • Group of positive friends
  • Purposeful activity, meaningful pursuits

We will add more information here as we find it.

Check out the Six Man Project Resources for more articles and materials.