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Ketamine has recently received considerable attention regarding its antidepressant and anti-suicidal effects. Trials have generally focused on short-term effects of single intravenous infusions. Research on patient experiences is lacking.
To investigate the experiences over time of individuals receiving ketamine treatment in a routine clinic, including impacts on mood and suicidality.
Twelve fee-paying patients with treatment-resistant depression (6 females, 6 males, age 21–70 years; 11 reporting suicidality and 6 reporting self-harm) who were assessed as eligible for ketamine treatment participated in up to three semi-structured interviews: before treatment started, a few weeks into treatment and ≥2 months later. Data were analysed thematically.
Most participants hoped that ketamine would provide respite from their depression. Nearly all experienced improvement in mood following initial treatments, ranging from negligible to dramatic, and eight reported a reduction in suicidality. Improvements were transitory for most participants, although two experienced sustained consistent benefit and two had sustained but limited improvement. Some participants described hopelessness when treatment stopped working, paralleled by increased suicidal ideation for three participants. The transient nature and cost of treatment were problematic. Eleven participants experienced side-effects, which were significant for two participants. Suggestions for improving treatment included closer monitoring and adjunctive psychological therapy.
Ketamine treatment was generally experienced as effective in improving mood and reducing suicidal ideation in the short term, but the lack of longer-term benefit was challenging for participants, as was treatment cost. Informed consent procedures should refer to the possibilities of relapse and associated increased hopelessness and suicidality.
Death of patients by suicide can have powerful effects on psychiatrists. We report the findings of a survey completed by 174 psychiatrists on the effects of patient suicide on their emotional well-being and clinical practice, and the support and resources they felt would be helpful.
Results and clinical implications
The death of a patient by suicide usually had a major effect on respondents. Clinical practice was often negatively affected, and over a quarter of respondents considered a change of career path as a result. There were some gender differences in responses, with women reporting more sense of responsibility for the deaths and a greater effect on their clinical confidence. Desired support included a senior suicide lead clinician, support during formal post-suicide processes, opportunity for reflection on practice, information about resources to support families and help communicating with families and friends of the deceased.
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