Staff experiences and perceptions of working with in-patients who are suicidal: qualitative analysis

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Abstract

Background

Suicidal behaviour is frequent in psychiatric in-patients and much staff time and resources are devoted to assessing and managing suicide risk. However, little is known about staff experiences of working with in-patients who are suicidal.

Aims

To investigate staff experiences of working with in-patients who are suicidal.

Method

Qualitative study guided by thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews with mental health staff with experience of psychiatric in-patient care.

Results

Twenty staff participated. All had encountered in-patient suicide deaths or attempts. Three key themes were identified: (a) experiences of suicidality, (b) conceptualising suicidality and (c) talking about suicide.

Conclusions

Suicidal behaviour in psychiatric wards has a large impact on staff feelings, practice and behaviour. Staff felt inadequately equipped to deal with such behaviours, with detrimental consequences for patients and themselves. Organisational support is lacking. Training and support should extend beyond risk assessment to improving staff skills in developing therapeutic interactions with in-patients who are suicidal.

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