Health services, suicide, and self-harm: patient distress and system anxiety.


Journal Article

Patients often become distressed in health settings, and provision of emotional support is a routine part of clinical care. However, in some situations, patient distress can become disturbing to both clinicians and patients, and can affect ordinary therapeutic engagement. We argue that health systems that support people presenting with suicidal acts and self-harm are particularly at risk of providing maladaptive responses, which we have termed dysregulation. If health systems become dysregulated, staff and patients might find it difficult to think clearly and respond adaptively. We describe some common characteristics of dysregulation, including negative feelings about patients, an inappropriately narrow focus on diagnosis and risk assessment, and ad-hoc, abrupt, and inconsistent decision making. These dysregulated responses might impair more adaptive responses such as containment of distress, safety planning, and negotiated responsibility with patients and carers. We discuss the main drivers of dysregulation and the implications for clinical practice in the management of self-harm and suicide risk.

Full Text

Cited Authors

  • Smith, MJ; Bouch, J; Bradstreet, S; Lakey, T; Nightingale, A; O'Connor, RC

Published Date

  • March 2015

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 2 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 275 - 280

PubMed ID

  • 26359905

Pubmed Central ID

  • 26359905

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 2215-0374

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 2215-0366

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/s2215-0366(15)00051-6


  • eng