Get access

Risk assessment and management approaches on mental health units


  • P. Woods RMN RPN PhD

    Professor, Associate Dean, Corresponding author
    • Research Innovation and Global Initiatives, College of Nursing, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, SK, Canada
    Search for more papers by this author


P. Woods

College of Nursing

University of Saskatchewan

107 Wiggins Rd


Saskatchewan, S7N 5E5




Accessible summary

  • The study aimed to understand risk assessment and management approaches on a number of mental health units.
  • Mental health professionals have a number of choices to make when considering risk assessment.
  • Participants were mainly using a clinical approach to risk assessment, which is affected by their own skill level.
  • It is important to consider including more structured approaches to risk assessment, as well as education and training, and client participation.


This exploratory and descriptive study took place in one Canadian province. The study aimed to: (1) to identify and describe the nature and extent of current risk assessment and management approaches used in the adult inpatient mental health and forensic units; and (2) to identify good practice and shortfalls in the nature and extent of the approaches currently utilized. Data were collected from 48 participants through nine focus groups. Participants reported that they used a clinical approach to risk assessment. They had also not considered risk assessment and management as a proactive structured process. Education and training was also limited and skills were developed over time through practice. Five keys issues are discussed as important: reliance on clinical judgement alone is not the best choice to make; the need to consider risk as a whole concept; risk management being more reactive than proactive; education and training; and client involvement in risk assessment.