Managing and Assessing Suicidality With the CAMS Framework

Suicide was the tenth (second for youth) leading cause of death for all age groups in 20121 and remains a national public health prevention priority. There is a gap in suicide-specific intervention training for mental health professional students and clinicians.2

Training mental health clinicians in a systematic suicide-specific intervention is consistent with the 2012 National Strategy on Suicide Prevention3 and is known to decrease clinicians’ anxiety and fears, dispel myths, and improve clinical practice.4  

For the first time, a group of 35 psychiatric mental health advanced practice nurses were trained in the Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality (CAMS),5 a therapeutic clinical framework last month at the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) Annual Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana. As a CAMS trainer and researcher, I conducted the training.6

CAMS is a structured, clinical approach to assess, monitor, and intervene with a patient at risk for suicide.5 The process enhances the therapeutic alliance and increases treatment motivation. CAMS includes the use of Problem-Focused Treatment (PFT) and a written template, the Suicide Status Form (SSF). PFT targets and treats the drivers of suicidality, develops a suicide-specific plan, and ultimately increases positive coping and reasons for living.  

Clinical research on CAMS was initiated 25 years ago by its developer, David Jobes, PhD, a professor of psychology at The Catholic University of America.7 The CAMS intervention has been implemented in clinical services with college populations, youth in residential treatment, military and veteran populations, patients in outpatient and inpatient programs, and international populations by a variety of mental health disciplines.8-10

The evidence base for the program’s effectiveness includes well-powered studies: six correlational studies, one randomized trial over several decades, and an open trial. These studies support feasibility and clinical use of CAMS with suicidal outpatients and inpatients.11-14