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Tijdschrift voor Psychiatrie 46 (2004) 9, 579 - 588

New research

Trainee psychiatrists' encounters with suicide: a report from Flanders

E. de Heyn, G. Pieters, S. Joos, V. de Gucht

background Research shows that a large number of psychiatrists are confronted with the suicide of a patient during their training period and later while practising their profession. So far there are no data available concerning this subject in Flanders.
aim To conduct a systematic inquiry into the frequency with which trainee psychiatrists encounter suicide of a patient and into the impact that suicide makes on them; also to find out whether the trainees had followed any courses dealing with the assessment of the risk of suicide and with the clinical and policy matters that have to be considered after a patient has committed suicide.
method In March 2001 a questionnaire was sent to all 163 psychiatric trainees in Flanders. The questionnaire was designed to elicit information about trainees' encounters with patient suicide and about the instruction they had received in connection with patient suicide. The questionnaire included a Dutch version of the Impact of Event Scale, so that the impact of suicide could be measured.
results Data were collected for 114 trainees, representing a 70% response rate. Of the respondents 69.3% had experienced the suicide of a patient during their training, 15.2% replied that the suicide had had a negative effect on their personal life and 17.7% reported that the suicide had had a negative effect on their professional life. Only 9.6% had received some training in post-suicide clinical and policy procedures.
conclusion The study confirms earlier data from other countries namely that the suicide of a patient is a fairly common occurrence during a psychiatrist's training. The impact of suicide on trainees in Flanders is somewhat lower than that on trainees in other countries. Only a very small number of trainees in Flanders received instruction about the clinical and policy procedures that need to be followed upon the suicide of a patient.

keywords impact, psychiatry, suicide, training