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The General Practice Mental Health Standards Collaboration (GPMHSC)

After suicide
A resource for GPs

Impacts of patient suicide on clinicians

It is estimated that at least one in five mental health professionals loses a patient to suicide.43 Given that people who die by suicide are 2.5 times more likely to have seen a primary care provider than a mental health specialist in the month preceding their death, losing a patient to suicide could be considered an occupational hazard for GPs4

In many ways, the experience of a clinician after a patient suicide is similar to that of other bereaved people.4 However, suicide bereavement in clinicians is often accompanied by questioning around professional responsibility and ability to prevent suicide, fear of being blamed for the suicide, and concerns about family and community reactions.4

In the event of a patient suicide, the treating GP will likely be contacted by the coroner’s office. It is advisable for GPs to contact their professional indemnity insurer for advice in anticipation of being contacted by the coroner.

The effects of patient suicide on clinicians include:

  • stress
  • feelings of guilt, anger, shame and isolation
  • social withdrawal and disruption to relationships
  • reduction in self-esteem and decreased self-confidence
  • symptoms of PTSD
  • fears of litigation and retribution
  • more defensive approaches to patient risk
  • consideration of leaving the job.45