Four out of five GPs have experienced a patient suicide

Almost 80% of GPs have experienced a patient suicide, and most are adversely affected, it has emerged.

Most (68%) feel sad, upset, less confident and professionally inadequate, but are also determined to be more aware and vigilant when dealing with patients. 

However, only 2% of GPs said there are additional supports at their practices for when a patient dies by suicide.

The findings are from a study by the HSE National Office for Suicide Prevention and the Irish College of General Practitioners.

Most GPs have not undertaken any previous suicide prevention training (81%) and those who did have a more positive attitude towards suicide prevention.

GPs said there is limited access to specialist support services to deal with suicidal persons. Only 15% said there were additional services available to them. Only one-third of GPs said their practice has a personal liaison with psychiatric services.

A review of studies found 45% of those who died by suicide saw their GP during the month before their death. Just 20% saw a mental health professional.

The survey was circulated to 2,917 members of the ICGP, and the majority (60%) of the 469 who responded were women. Almost all (97%) GPs said their practice has no written policies or procedures regarding mental health. 

Less than one in five (19%) said there are additional services at their practice to deal with mental health issues.

Some of the obstacles identified by GPs to the care of suicidal persons are time pressures; an inadequacy of services; and lack of support for GPs.

Clinical adviser at the HSE National Office for Suicide Prevention, Dr Justin Brophy, said the research suggested GPs were open to and would benefit from additional training on recognising and managing suicide risk: “This study also emphasises the fact that while training is important, improved connections with and access to mental health services are also essential in order to facilitate GPs to manage patients’ suicidal behaviour.”

Director of mental health services at the ICGP, Dr Brian Osborne, said the college, together with the NOSP, will be rolling out a national programme of further education for GPs on suicide prevention and self-harm: “GPs are the first and ongoing point of contact when patient present with mental health difficulties in the health system. 

The ICGP curriculum is clear that all GP trainees are taught to conduct clinical suicide risk assessments as part of their training.”

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