When an individual dies by suicide, family and friends are often left wondering if there was something that could have been said or done to prevent this loss. When a mental health practitioner loses a patient to suicide, they too may experience a grieving process that severely impacts their work. Many practitioners who lose a patient to suicide report numerous fears: fear that they did not do enough to prevent the death, fear that they may be sued for malpractice, or fear that this may happen again with future patients. Despite the fact that her patient never expressed suicidal ideation in their sessions, one clinician was sued twice by a family after the patient killed himself. This experience can make it difficult for some clinicians to continue their work and leads some to not accept new patients who have a history of suicidal ideation or attempts.
However, there are initiatives underway to help mental health professionals in treating suicidal patients and coping with loss. Paul Quinett, a professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral science at the University of Washington School Of Medicine, is working to train clinicians to both treat suicidal patients and how to process a patient’s death from suicide. The American Association of Suicidology’s Clinician Survivor Task Force is a support group for providers who have lost someone to suicide, including a patient. Although still a stigmatized topic in the mental health profession, open dialogue on losing a patient to suicide is needed for both suicide prevention and postvention in this field.
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