Post-traumatic symptoms in the staff of a mental health inpatient unit after the suicide of a patient: a case report in Chile


Rodrigo Andrés Figueroa Cabello

Tomás León

Richard Sorensen


BACKGROUND: Multiple studies have shown that the suicide of a patient can produce posttraumatic and depressive symptoms among the mental health care providers, who typically have high levels of baseline burnout. OBJECTIVES: To measure posttraumatic, depressive and burnout symptoms in the staff of an inpatient psychiatric unit after the suicide of a patient. METHODS: Two months after the suicide all the employees were invited to answer, anonymously, the Posttraumatic Check-List (PCL), the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), for measuring posttraumatic, depressive, and burnout symptoms, respectively. RESULTS: Over 80% of the staff participated. A total of 17.1% had probable PTSD, 19.5% probable major depression, 24.4% and 14.6% high levels of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, respectively, and 24.4% low levels of professional accomplishment. The group consisting of nurses, paramedic technicians, and nursing assistants ("nursing staff") had PTSD significantly greater than other workers (p < .001). CONCLUSIONS: Suicide in a psychiatric ward can produce posttraumatic and depressive symptoms among the staff, as high as another kind of traumas. The impact may be greater on the nursing staff. It is essential that organizations involved in the provision or teaching of mental health care incorporate this reality into their agenda, to prevent, mitigate and respond better to this phenomenon.


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