Objectives: International suicide prevention strategies recommend providing support to families bereaved by suicide. The study objectives were to measure the proportion of cases in which psychiatric professionals contact next of kin
after a patient’s suicide and to investigate whether specific, potentially stigmatizing patient characteristics influence whether the family is contacted.
Methods: Annual survey data from England and Wales (2003–2012) were used to identify 11,572 suicide cases among psychiatric patients. Multivariate regression analysis was used to describe the association between specific covariates (chosen on the basis of clinical judgment and the published literature) and the probability that psychiatric staff would contact bereaved relatives of the deceased.
Results: Relatives were not contacted after the death in 33% of cases. Contrary to the hypothesis, a violent method of suicide was independently associated with greater likelihood of contact with relatives (adjusted odds ratio=1.67). Four patient factors (forensic history, unemployment, and primary diagnosis of alcohol or drug dependence ormisuse) were independently associated with less likelihood of contact with relatives. Patients’ race-ethnicity and recent alcohol or drug misuse were not associated with contact with relatives.
Conclusions: Four stigmatizing patient-related factors reduced the likelihood of contacting next of kin after patient suicide, suggesting inequitable access to support after a potentially traumatic bereavement. Given the association of
suicide bereavement with suicide attempt, and the possibility of relatives’ shared risk factors for suicide, British psychiatric services should provide more support to relatives after patient suicide.