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Minerva Psichiatrica 2002 September;43(3):181-6

language: Italian

Dealing with patient suicide

Pompili M., Mancinelli I., Tatarelli R.


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Patient suicide is a frequent event for psychiatrists and has great emotional impact on both their professional and personal life. Although it might be hard to identify what kind of reactions are more frequently elicited by patient suicide, in many cases various emotional reactions such as disbelief, denial, shock, grief and anger are observed. Also, guilt and fear of public humiliation are very often experienced when legal enquiries are performed. Radical changes in clinical practice are often made following patient death. Impact on clinical practice is noteworthy as the psychiatrist may compulsively look for suicidal indicators and blame the therapeutic method. The same occurs when a hospital structure deals with the event. In consequence of patient suicide, both individual psychiatrists and psychiatric divisions are more willing to hospitalise patients, arrange follow-ups after shorter periods of time, increase doses of medication and take care of clinical records meticulously. Various coping strategies are identified among those who work through patient suicide. Colleagues' support is paramount in the postevent strategies. The psychiatrist and the patient's family members experience very similar emotions and for this reason meetings between the two very often turn out to be a valid method to deal with the event, although caution is mandatory in these circumstances. Residency training programs should include protocols for helping trainees deal with patient suicide and above all emphasise the learning of those notions that should help psychiatrists deal with such an event during their clinical career.

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