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Psychological Autopsy

The primary reason for conducting a psychological autopsy is to determine the status of insurance coverage. Some policies do not compensate the family of the deceased if the cause of death is determined to be suicide. This creates a double hardship for the family, as they must cope with financial losses, plus the emotional burden of trying to accept suicide as a reality. The role of the psychologist is to evaluate whether evidence exists to support suicide as a reasonable conclusion, based on psychological information.

Obviously, the psychological state of the individual, prior to his or her death, is of utmost importance in assessing whether that death might possibly be the result of suicide, as opposed to other causes. It is impossible to assess a death as suicide based purely on physiological results because the mental status of the individual must be considered and is not present in a medical autopsy. This type of psychological evaluation is unique, because the individual being evaluated is deceased. Medical records are reviewed, along with the events leading up to the person's death, and the official account of the death. Friends and family members are also interviewed to assess the person's long term functioning.