Hearing the Suicidal Patient's Emotional Pain: A Typological Model to Improve Communication

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Abstract

Background: Escaping from emotional pain is a recognized driver in suicidal patients' desire to die. Formal scales of emotional pain are rarely used during routine contact between patients and their care team. No study has explored facilitators and inhibitors of emotional pain communication between staff and suicidal patients during regular care. Aims: To identify factors impeding or facilitating emotional pain communication between patients at risk of suicide and mental health professionals. Method: Nine patients with a history of a medically serious suicide attempt and 26 mental health (NHS) staff participated in individualized and focus group interviews, respectively. Results: A typological model was created, describing how patients either speak out or inhibit communication, and professionals may hear the communication or fail to do so. Four permutations are possible: unspoken/unheard, spoken/unheard, spoken/heard, and unspoken/heard. We found 14 subthemes of impediments and facilitators, which include misaligned, alienated and, co-bearing. Limitations: No male patients participated. Conclusion: Numerous factors influence whether emotional pain communication is responded to, missed, or ignored. Patients may try more than one way to communicate. Some patients fear that being able to speak out results in their emotional pain being taken less seriously. Knowledge of this model should improve the care of suicidal patients.

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