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A study of consultant psychiatrists' response to patients' suicide

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 June 2014

Eric Kelleher*
St James' University Hospital, Dublin 8, Ireland
Aisling Campbell
Cork University Hospital, Cork, Ireland
*Correspondence Email:


Objectives: A patient's suicide is arguably the event of most concern to consultant psychiatrists. Given the rise in the rate of suicide in the Republic of Ireland, the impact it has should not be underestimated. The aims of the study were: to assess the effect a patient's suicide has on a consultant's personal and professional life; to identify what factors modulated or exacerbated their response to the suicide; and to highlight what was shown to be beneficial in coping with the aftermath.

Methods: Following a literature review, a questionnaire from a previous study was chosen. This was sent to 74 consultants working in the Munster province. It asked consultants to recall their ‘most distressing’ suicide and their response to it. The results were analysed using quantitative methodology. A further literature review was conducted on the issues raised.

Results: The questionnaire response rate was 67.5%. A total of 80% of consultants had a patient commit suicide under their care. In the case of 27.5%, consultants said that their personal lives had been affected by the suicide and 32.5% said that their professional lives had been affected. The majority of those affected were recently appointed consultants. Consultants' peers and team were significant sources of support, as were team meetings. A total of 57.5% of consultants said that their management of future suicidal patients had changed following the suicide.

Conclusions: A proportion of consultants experience negative effects in their lives as a consequence of patient suicide. However the support of consultant peers, the team and team meetings may help in the aftermath.

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Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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