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  • 01 March 2024
  • 3 min read

Understanding and Managing the Impact of Patient Suicide on Nursing Teams

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Nursing staff"Navigating the psychological aftermath of patient suicide demands compassionate management that acknowledges nurses' emotions"

Head of Nursing, Nathan Crimes, discusses the impact of patient suicide on healthcare staff and highlights how organisations can use a compassionate interdisciplinary approach to support their teams.

Introduction

The tragedy of suicide not only devastates individuals and their families but also leaves a profound mark on the healthcare professionals directly involved in their care.

This article delves into the psychological toll experienced by nursing teams following a patient's suicide and underscores the critical role of compassionate interdisciplinary strategies in addressing this impact.

Despite the pressure to uphold exemplary standards of care, prioritising the well-being of healthcare professionals grappling with such events is paramount.

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Impact of patient suicide on nursing teams

Nursing teams entrusted with the care of patients who die by suicide often grapple with a spectrum of emotions, ranging from shock and guilt to grief and self-doubt.

Their profession demands forming deep therapeutic bonds with patients, intensifying the weight of loss when tragedy strikes.

As reported in the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Safety in Mental Health (NCISH), in 2020 there were an estimated 70 suicides by mental health inpatients and an estimated 186 in the 3 months after discharge from mental health inpatient care in the UK (excluding Northern Ireland) (see National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Safety in Mental Health Annual Report 2023).

These statistics underscore the urgency of addressing the toll on healthcare providers and highlight the need for robust support systems.

Compassionate management

Navigating the psychological aftermath of patient suicide demands compassionate management that acknowledges nurses' emotions, provides unwavering support, and facilitates structured debriefing sessions.

Embracing interdisciplinary collaboration with mental health teams, including Community Mental Health Teams (CMHT) and care coordinators, is vital in ensuring comprehensive support for nursing staff.

Establishing a psychologically safe environment, where nurses can freely express their emotions without fear of judgment, is foundational.

Additionally, organisations should provide access to staff support resources such as counselling services and peer support groups to aid in coping with the emotional impact of patient suicides.

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Supporting affected families

While nursing teams require robust support, maintaining a steadfast focus on families directly impacted by the tragedy remains paramount. Post-suicide support services should be readily accessible to aid families in processing their grief and navigating the intricate facets of loss.

This may include access to bereavement counselling, support groups, and practical assistance in handling administrative tasks.

Continuous learning for enhanced future safety

Promptly learning from tragic events is imperative for bolstering future safety and management within mental health services. Cultivating a culture of continuous learning fosters a proactive stance in identifying and mitigating risks.

This entails implementing measures to fortify patient safety, delivering ongoing staff training initiatives, and nurturing open communication within interdisciplinary teams.

By continuously reviewing and refining protocols and procedures, healthcare organisations can strive to prevent future tragedies while providing optimal care to patients and support to nursing teams.

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Conclusion

The ripple effect of patient suicide on nursing teams is profound, necessitating a concerted effort to prioritise their well-being through compassionate interdisciplinary approaches.

By validating their emotions, extending robust support, and fostering a culture of continuous learning, healthcare organisations can better equip nursing teams to navigate the psychological trauma associated with patient suicides while consistently upholding exemplary standards of care.

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About the author

I am Head of Nursing, Children’s services at West Area Integrated Health Community. I have experience working as a specialist advisor for the CQC and a lead reviewer for the Royal College of Psychiatrists Quality Network for Inpatient CAMHS (QNIC).


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