Year: 2020 Source: Archives of Suicide Research. (2020). 24(3), 355-366. SIEC No: 20200933

Therapists’ intense negative emotional responses regarding suicidal patients raise questions about therapists’ willingness to treat them; however, this issue has yet to be investigated. The aim of the current study is to examine to what extent the severity of suicidality of a hypothetical patient will influence therapists’ willingness to treat and the likelihood of their referring out. Mental health professionals (N = 249) completed a questionnaire that presented a vignette of a hypothetical patient referred for psychological treatment. The vignette contained a manipulation of the severity of suicidality levels of the referred patient, with two randomly assigned conditions: suicidal or depressive symptoms. Participants were then asked about their willingness to treat the hypothetical patient. Our results showed that willingness to treat was significantly lower and the likelihood of referring out was significantly higher among therapists in the suicidal patient condition, relative to the depressive patient condition. Longer professional seniority and previous training in suicide prevention moderated these effects. Our findings highlighted therapists’ reluctance, especially among young practitioners, to treat suicidal patients, an inclination that may have a critical impact on patient suicidal outcomes. Findings reinforced the need for specific training on suicide prevention in the mental health curriculum.