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Psychiatrists’ Emotional Reactions to Patient Suicidal Behavior


Journal of Psychiatric Practice®: March 2012 - Volume 18 - Issue 2 - p 94–108
doi: 10.1097/01.pra.0000413275.09305.d5

Background. Psychopathology is a risk factor for suicidal behavior. It is likely that psychiatrists will have to deal with an attempted or completed suicide by a patient at some point in their careers. The goal of this study was to assess psychiatrists’ emotional reactions to patients’ suicidal behavior. Methods. Data were collected using a questionnaire that was administered to psychiatrists after a completed or attempted suicide by one of their patients. Results. Thirty-four psychiatrists participated in the study and reported on 62 attempted suicides and 11 completed suicides. All of the participants reported at least one emotion following the event. After an attempted suicide, trainees were more likely than consultants to experience psychological pain, guilt, self-doubt, and frustration. Being a trainee was also associated with psychological pain, guilt, fear, self-doubt, and frustration in regression analysis. Shock, disbelief, fear, self-doubt, and embarrassment were associated with completed rather than attempted suicides. Conclusions. Attempted and completed suicides have a significant impact on psychiatrists. The impact of an attempted suicide is usually less severe. The patterns of reaction differ between consultant and trainee psychiatrists. (Journal of Psychiatric Practice 2012;18:94–108).

SCOCCO: University of Padua, Department of Mental Health, Padua, Italy, and the Soproxi project (; TOFFOL: National Institute for Health and Welfare, University of Helsinki, Finland, and the Soproxi project; PILOTTO: University of Padua; PERTILE: Provincial Centre for Health Services, Trento, Italy.

The authors declare no conflicts of interest. Dr. Toffol has received a grant from the Research Foundation of the Univer sity of Helsinki, and is currently receiving a grant (TM-117559) from the CIMO-Centre for International Mobility.

Please send correspondence to: Paolo Scocco, Community Mental Health Centre, Via Buzzaccarini 1, 35124 Padova, Italy.

Copyright © 2012 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.