The therapist’s reaction to a patient’s suicide: Results of a survey and implications for health care professionals’ well-being
Wurst, F.M., Kunz, I., Skipper, G., Wolfersdorf, M., Beine, KH., & Thon, N.
Background: A substantial proportion of therapists experience the loss of a patient to suicide at some point during their professional life.
Aims: To assess (1) the impact of a patient’s suicide on therapists distress and well-being over time, (2) which factors contribute to the reaction, and (3) which subgroup might need special interventions in the aftermath of suicide.
Methods: A 63-item questionnaire was sent to all 185 Psychiatric Clinics at General Hospitals in Germany. The emotional reaction of therapists to patient’s suicide was measured immediately, after 2 weeks, and after 6 months.
Results: Three out of ten therapists suffer from severe distress after a patients’ suicide. The item “overall distress” immediately after the suicide predicts emotional reactions and changes in behavior. The emotional responses immediately after the suicide explained 43.5% of the variance of total distress in a regression analysis.
Limitations: The retrospective nature of the study is its primary limitation.
Conclusions: Our data suggest that identifying the severely distressed subgroup could be done using a visual analog scale for overall distress. As a consequence, more specific and intensified help could be provided to these professionals.